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Mama J’s hopes you learn from the way they were scammed

Posted at 2:02 AM, Oct 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-29 07:16:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A local restaurant hopes that people can learn from the scam they fell victim to recently. It happened as the employees at Mama J's restaurant in Jackson Ward were in the middle of the lunch rush and celebrating their five-year anniversary.

Lester Johnson, managing partner of Mama J’s, said he is used to getting all kinds of cold calls at his Richmond restaurant, but this one, he said came from someone who claimed to be from Dominion Virginia Power.

"It was all kind of red flags.  All kinds,"  Johnson said. "It just didn't seem right, but because we’re moving so fast you don’t have time to sit there and say, this is not right at all."

The caller, Johnson said, told him they were about to turn off power to the restaurant.

"They had a technician in the area -- he was actually in route," Johnson recalled the person on the phone telling him. "They were going to be turning the power off at our business location in 45 minute, if this bill wasn't paid."

The caller said the restaurant owed $999.83 from a previous bill in August.

"He indicated that she [a restaurant manager] needed to go either to CVS or 7-Eleven and purchase these same day green dot Moneypak cards to pay right away," Johnson said.

And so they did.  Johnson then contacted the power company asking about it.

"Do you see any payments posted on my account today? She said 'no,'" Johnson said.

Johnson called Richmond Police. and the FBI.  Investigators told him to notify the Federal Trade Commission.

Tom Gallagher with the Better Business Bureau said he sees this kind of scam happens all the time.

"The power company never calls anybody like that,” Gallagher said. "There are signs of scams; speed, secrecy and selectivity."

Gallagher suggested following these tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Do your research.  If you get a call from a utility company, hang up and call that business.
  • Beware of giving personal information over the phone.
  • Beware of door to door sales.
  • And be proactive.  Contact your bank and the credit bureaus, if you think you've been scammed.

"Rarely, is there any chance to get any money back," Gallagher said. "The big opportunity is to save someone else from getting scammed."

The BBB said there’s no way to track down these scammers because they tend to reach out online and over the phone.

Richmond Police are investigating to see if there are more scams like this in our area.