Local business targeted by fake calls for information

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Jenny McClellan spent most of the afternoon tidying up after a day she couldn't have planned for.

During a busy hour Saturday morning, Cannoli's Cafe in North Myrtle Beach received a call from a man claiming to be with their power company.

"I panicked," said McClellan, Co-Owner of the coffee shop.

Alarmed and embarrassed, McClellan ran out to her car to speak with the caller. The man told McClellan her business had not paid its electricity bill and the power would be shut off in 45 minutes.

The caller told McClellan, "You can call this number and arrange a payment immediately but there's no guarantee we can fix the problem until Monday or Tuesday,"

She called the next number and eventually shared her cell phone number, address, and the last four digits of her husband's social security number. The caller claimed to be a private contractor hired by her electric company Santee Cooper.

McClellan said nothing seemed out of the ordinary; she was just trying to keep her business afloat.

"I was really panicked that we were going to close in 45 minutes," she said.

Before making any payments, McClellan called Santee Cooper to make sure there was not a mistake. She then found out she had been duped.

"He told me, number one, we would never do that to you and he looked up my account and said your account is not any problem where we would shut it off," McClellan said.

WMBF News called Santee Cooper and the company said these calls are not uncommon. They never hire contractors and would never give short notice in any instance like this.

Santee Cooper said, "Customers should never provide their social security number, credit card number, or banking information unless they initiated the contact. This is not how Santee Cooper does business."

WMBF got the phone number from McClellan and decided to contact the callers. The number was based in Provo, Utah, and the man who answered never gave a straight answer on what company he worked for.

"Who am I calling," asked WMBF reporter Conor McCue.

"Hold on one second please," the man answered after a long pause.

The man first said he worked for South Carolina Public Services and then said South Carolina Power. We told him we had been flagged and wanted to find out why. After giving WMBF's address and a cell phone number, the man said that WMBF News owed $498.97 in overdue bills.

"There will be an interruption in 45 minutes," said the man.

"So they're going to shut our power down in 45 minutes if we don't pay," McCue asked.

His answer was yes.

The man said we could make the payment to them at a local Walgreens. When we asked who to make the payment to the conversation ended.

Horry County deputies say they hear about these calls all the time. There's not much they can do except warn the public and hope no one else falls victim.

"I gave him a lot of information and I'm embarrassed I gave that information out," McClellan said.

Luckily McClellan caught herself before giving out any more information. Her business should be fine but she now worries other small businesses will be targeted in the future.

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