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CBS2 Exclusive: Queens Deli Owners Duped Out Of $1,000 By Con Ed Scammer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Con Edison issued a warning Wednesday about con artists who claim to represent the public utility, and CBS2 has discovered several small business owners that have already become victims.

As CBS2's Magdalena Doris reported, Con Ed said it gets 15 to 20 calls about such scams every day. In one recent occasion, the crooks snagged $1,000, and when CBS2's Doris called to confront the scammers, they weren't too happy.

Janaina Marchena got duped, and now she is out the $1,000.

"Right away, I thought we were doing what was right," Marchena said.

When she received a call at her Elmhurst, Queens deli from someone claiming to be from Con Edison, her heart sank. She was told she was past due, and her electric service would be shut off within the hour unless she made an express payment.

"They told us that we had to go out and purchase these (gift cards), because it needed to be in express payment; it needed to be there within the next hour," Marchena said.

So Marchena's husband ran to get the prepaid cards -- $500 each -- and once she called back and provided what she thought was the billing department with the numbers, she was their told her problem was solved.

"(He said): 'We're going to stop the shutoff process. and here's your confirmation number -- you're all set. Your next payment is for this date for this amount,'" Marchena said. "He knew everything. We thought we were good."

That was until their business partner, Juliet Landen, got the same call at her clothing store ten days later. -She hung up and called Con Ed.

"I asked her, I said, said, 'Do you guys usually come out or call and say, 'You're going to get shut off in an hour?'" Landen said, "and she's like, 'No, we don't do that.'"

So they checked the Con Ed website. The payment for the deli's electric never went through, and the gift cards weren't used for utilities. American Express found other charges.

"*They paid a DirecTV bill with it; more tickets; iTunes," Marchena said.

So CBS2 called the number from which the purported Con Ed representatives had called Marchena and Landen. A man posing as "Larry" from Con Edison told CBS2 the same thing -- get two prepaid money gift cards and call back within an hour.

"'I promise to God, if you follow my instructions, your service will not be suspended.' That's what this guy just said to me," Doris said after making the call.

An hour passed, and CBS2 was back on the phone with "Larry." This time, CBS2 gave him the card number Marchena used in her previous transaction, and even got a confirmation number.

But when Doris asked "Larry" who he really was, he became irate – cursing at Doris and hanging up.

Con Edison said no one from their company will ever call asking for an immediate payment made by prepaid card. But Marhcena said she was duped because the man who called had all of her information.

"They knew the account number. They knew what our balance was. They knew how much we had to pay; when we had to pay it," Marchena said.

But the utility company said that information doesn't mean the person on the other end of the phone is official and legitimate.

"People can steal your private information from the garbage. There's other things that people to do get their hands on it," said Con Edison spokesman Michael Clendenin. "These folks are experts."

And it seems they are. When CBS2 searched the phone number used by the scammers, multiple complaints come up with the same story -- dating back to last year.

"If it happened to us it can happen to anybody," Marchena said.

Con Edison says if you are past due on your bills, they will make contact through the mail and the phone before shutting off your service.

The Federal trade Commission is now investigating the scam.

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