WRAL Investigates

Phone scam targets Triangle businesses

Posted October 1, 2014 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2014 8:03 p.m. EDT

— While serving up cakes, cookies and fresh baked breads, a popular local bakery almost got taken by a scam – one that many others have fallen for.

Missy Vatinet, owner of La Farm Bakery in Cary, says she received a call that her energy bill hadn’t been paid and the electricity would be shut off within an hour.

“It was the timing of the call,” she said. “We got the call about an hour before lunch.”

Vatinet and her husband, Lionel Vatinet, were certain it was just a mistake with Duke Energy Progress. Their billing cycle had just changed, but they didn’t want to risk losing everything that was baking, nor their approaching lunch rush.

“So, it was a very good time to try to catch us off our guard,” Missy Vatinet said.

The caller said the easiest way to immediately resolve the problem was for the Vatinets to buy reloadable Green Dot money cards, totaling $1,491, scratch them off and call back with the numbers.

The owner of Tasty 8's Gourmet Hotdog Co. in downtown Raleigh says he got the same call during lunch. Brett Wells rushed to get $957 worth of Green Dot cards but stopped when his landlord verified the scam.

Duke Energy Progress has posted a warning online, letting customers know about the scam. The company that issues Green Dot credit cards, MoneyPak, also posted a warning on its website.

Since Green Dot cards are easy cash for scammers, they combine them with all sorts of scenarios – money owed for a red-light ticket or a missed court appearance.

The scammers have also used the grandparent scam, where they call pretending to be with the grandchild who needs money because of an emergency. Another tactic is the supposed kidnapper scam, where they demand ransom for a loved one and even have someone screaming for help in the background.

No matter the scam, the goal is the same – to get your money. Luckily for La Farm Bakery, a store clerk warned Lionel Vatinet before he bought the money cards. Other business owners were in the same store, at the same time, tricked by the same call. Missy Vatinet verified the scam with Duke Energy by phone.

Duke Energy says it may call to discuss a delinquent account, but customers will get multiple notifications over several weeks before service is disconnected. The company never requires customers to buy a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.