COVID-19 scams are on the rise. Never answer robocalls or respond to emails you don’t recognize.

The other day while I was at work, the phone rang and it was a recorded message from TECO. It said that “my power at my place of business was set for disconnection in 30 minutes” and if I’d like to speak to a TECO representative I could “press one.”

I pressed one and I was connected to Diana Rodriguez with TECO’s customer service. Ms. Rodriguez explained to me that since my place of business was closed for three months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my place of business’ electric bill was now delinquent and my power would be disconnected in 30 minutes.

I asked Ms. Rodriguez if she could pause this disconnection so I could call my boss and see if we could get caught up on our bill. She said she could pause the disconnection, but I would have to pay in cash only. She gave me her “direct line” to call back once I had spoken to my boss.

When I called my boss, in an absolute panic, to ask him if we had enough cash to get our electricity caught up, he informed me that since our business is housed in a county building, the county pays our electricity. He also informed me that I had just fallen for a scam!

I was extremely mad. I called Ms. Rodriguez back on her direct line and informed her that the county pays our bill. She immediately hung up on me. When I called back again, I got a recording saying, “The number I was trying to reach was no longer in service.”

“We’re not disconnecting people for nonpayment right now because of the pandemic,” TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.

“So-called ‘spoofing’ scams are common. An unauthorized person makes it look like they’re calling from a legitimate source and demands money from a customer. It’s plagued Tampa Electric for the past eight years,” Jacobs said.

Other COVID-19 scams to be aware of are stimulus check scams.

“When stimulus checks were being distributed nationwide, we anticipated phone and email scams related to checks and worked to get ahead of that issue by spreading awareness online and through a PSA,” said Crystal Clark, chief communications officer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Be wary even of COVID-19 contact tracing callers, the latest COVID-19 scam.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s website (www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams-consumer-advice), “Learn how to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer. Legitimate tracers need health information, not money or personal financial information. … Ignore offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work. Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate. Hang up on robocalls. … Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information.”