Con artists scam Cleveland beauty salon by posing as power company

CLEVELAND-- A local businesswoman turned to the FOX 8 I-Team to help warn you of new ways con artists are scamming innocent people. She just lost big bucks.

Crooks are using fake phone numbers to fool victims, threatening to turn off their electricity and pressuring them for money.

Power company scams have been around for a while. But the other day, a woman running an east side beauty salon was stunned to learn she had been tricked.

She said she got a call from someone claiming to be with Cleveland Public Power telling her she had to pay up immediately or her power would be cut. The number that showed up on her phone matched a CPP main number. A callback number given to her rang to a voicemail that mentioned Cleveland Public Power as well.

So the businesswoman made a big payment. Then she found out later, she’d been had.

"They called from CPP's official telephone number. They put me up against the clock. They put me in a panicky mode. Everything seemed legit. Once it's over with, you start noticing the red flags," she said.

"I mean they were very, very professional. I did not think for a doubt that I was not talking to CPP."

Crooks can fool you very easily these days by having a fake number show up on your phone. Technology makes it easy, for instance, to have the Cleveland Public Power customer service number show up on your caller ID. It's all part of a trick known as spoofing.

"Utilities across the country are experiencing this," said Matt Schilling with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission.

"A utility's not gonna call you and threaten to shut you off. If you get a suspicious call, get your bill out, actually, and contact the utility at the number provided on your bill."

Cleveland Public Power backs that up, saying its workers do not call insisting on payment and threatening to shut off service. The callback number given to the victim at the hair salon was not a legitimate power company phone line.

The victim has filed reports with Cleveland police and the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

A police report showed an officer called one of the numbers in this case and got what appeared to be a CPP recording. The call did not go through Friday when we tried.