Scam alert: Be aware of strange phone calls

On Friday, Darin Onam, owner of Hachi Asian Cuisine & Grill on Lake Avenue, got a call.

The caller ID said the number was from the city, so, of course, Onam answered.

“They said I owed like $2,500 on my utility bill,” she said, sounding shocked.

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But Onam, who was on the phone 10 minutes, told the caller that wasn’t true and that she just paid $1,800 on her bill five days ago. She said she was told the payment didn’t go through and that if she didn’t pay today, her utility would be cut off.

“I told them I didn’t believe them, hung up the phone and called the city and gave them the number,” Onam said.

She did the right thing.

The city said phone scammers are targeting customers, telling them they need to make a payment immediately with a Green Dot MoneyPak card or personal credit card.

In an email sent Friday, Ben Kerr, city spokesman, said the calls aren’t coming from Lake Worth.

“Lake Worth Utilities will never call and demand credit card information or take Green Dot MoneyPak cards as payment with the threat of disconnection,” Kerr said in the email.

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The city doesn’t ask for any personal information from customers unless the customer initiates the contact, Kerr wrote.

Kerr said the scam flares up every now and again in Lake Worth.

“It’s not unique to Lake Worth (and) is experienced by almost every utility provider in the United States,” Kerr said.

He said the city contacted the Federal Trade Commission and filed a complaint. He said the FTC is asking all residents and business owners also to file a complaint by calling 877-382-4357, a move that will help attorneys gather evidence, Kerr said.

The city is also working on increasing its public education on the topic, he added.

City Commissioner Herman Robinson said he’s heard of the issue.

“Unfortunately, there are people who are susceptible to scams,” he said.

In fact, Robinson said a few months ago, he got a call from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, saying he owed back taxes.

He called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

“They know it’s a scam,” Robinson said. “They really can’t track it because the phone numbers they give you are bogus.”

The sheriff’s office Capt. Todd Baer said he’d have to research the issue.

Robinson compared dealing with phone scammers to local pickpockets.

“There will always be an element that does that and an element that’s susceptible to it,” he said.

Kerr said in his email if customers receive a strange call, they are encouraged to hang up and call Lake Worth Utilities at 561-533-7300. He also suggested residents make a suspicious incident report with the sheriff’s office at 561-688-3400.

Once a customer is given a case number, they should contact Lake Worth Utilities, which will forward the information to the detective, Kerr wrote.

City Commissioner Omari Hardy said it’s important the city communicates with residents.

“This isn’t the first time people have tried to scam the citizens of Lake Worth,” he said, “and it won’t be the last.”

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