JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s cold and dark in Richard Hill’s Arlington home.
“I'm pretty bad off now,” he said standing outside with only the streetlights on his face.
Hill is the latest victim of a cruel scam that took his last dime, and left him with no electricity as a cold front moved through the Northeast Florida.
After a string of bad luck, Hill was behind on his JEA payments. He was unable to apply for assistance, until he found an ad on Craigslist for a local church offering help to families in need. Hill called the number, and spoke to a man who offered to pay his outstanding bill, in exchange for a small donation that would help other families.
“If I could get help and get my $900 bill paid for $200 what person wouldn't say yes to that? At first I had my reservations, but the position I was in I had no choice but to at least try.”
The next day, Hill received good news.
“I called the JEA hotline. My balance was at zero. I called him back to say thank you and we set up to meet the next day.”
Hill gave the man $200, but days later, his heart sank when JEA cut the lights off again. Hill was told the check had bounced. Hill attempted to contact the man by phone, but the number was disconnected and the ad on Craigslist had been deleted.
Tom Stephens, President of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, said these types of scams increase during the holiday season.
“The $200 he paid this man in cash is gone. Their electricity is cut off, and it's Christmas time. They're in bad shape. So somebody taking advantage of them is sickening, quite frankly.”
Stephens said a few simple questions could protect you from this crime.
“Where is the church? What's the location? Can I go by and see that it exists?”
Hill wishes he’d done his research, and now he’s warning others also.
“If it sounds too good to be true, as cliché as that sounds, it probably is.”
Gerri Boyce, Spokesperson for JEA, says this type of scam is a reoccurring issue.
“Unfortunately we're seeing scams like this throughout the county and all utilities.”
She recommends those who need assistance with their bill call JEA to request an extension or the United Way 211 hotline. In addition, JEA offers a Neighbor to Neighbor program that allows customers to make donations to help families in need.
The BBB offers the following warning and recommendations regarding this scam: