“It was representative of Duke Energy,” Papargiriou said. Or, at least he thought.
Papargiriou is the owner and operator of Gulfport’s TLC Food Mart on Beach Boulevard.
“They told be because of all the changes to the meters, all my checks that I sent in to pay my bills went to the wrong account, therefore I have half an hour to either make a cash payment of $2,800 or there was a guy down here to shut my power off.”
Papargiriou told the voice on the phone that he did not have that kind of money available, and the mystery man reduced the charge to $1,000, with the rest due later. Papargiroiu complied with the arrangement and sent his $1,000.
“When it comes to my business, I lose my brain,” Papargiroiu said. “I don’t think straight.”
Soon after he wired the money, Papargiroiu quickly called Duke Energy to let them know he had put money in the account. This is when he knew things weren’t right.
“I come to find out that they have nobody doing such thing, and told me that my account was good up to the end of March,” Papargiroiu said. “They told me, ‘I’m very sorry but you got scammed.’”
Papargiroiu immediately reported the scam to the Gulfport police and the FBI. The police told him they would investigate and could pass it to Homeland Security. Unfortunately, if the call came from outside the country, police officials say there is not much they can do about it.
“There are a lot of scams like that out there,” Gulfport Detective Thomas Woodman said. “They’re common and you don’t always know [who is behind them].”
Woodman explained that since the money was sent via MoneyGram, they will have to determine where it was sent through subpoenas. Once they find out where it went, they can turn over the information they have to the presiding jurisdiction, which will take over the investigation from there.
“They will have the means to investigate it further,” Woodman said.
Papargiriou also said the call sounded very legitimate. The caller was aware that they had recently changed the meters to automatic ones and that Papargiriou pays his bill via check and not electronically.
“If my power gets shut down, I will lose thousands of dollars of merchandise. So my fear of my business took over my intelligence and I got scammed,” Papargiriou said.
But if something positive could come out of the situation, Papargiriou said that might take some of the sting out of the scam.
“If somebody gets help from this [experience], then I can feel better that I helped somebody down the path.”
He also remains hopeful that one day, justice will be served.
“Somewhere, somehow, those people will get caught,” he said, “and they will have to pay a lot more than $1,000.”