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Mama J’s hopes you learn from the way they were scammed

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RICHMOND, Va. -- A local restaurant hopes that people can learn from the scam they fell victim to recently. It happened as the employees at Mama J's restaurant in Jackson Ward were in the middle of the lunch rush and celebrating their five-year anniversary.

Lester Johnson, managing partner of Mama J’s, said he is used to getting all kinds of cold calls at his Richmond restaurant, but this one, he said came from someone who claimed to be from Dominion Virginia Power.

"It was all kind of red flags.  All kinds,"  Johnson said. "It just didn't seem right, but because we’re moving so fast you don’t have time to sit there and say, this is not right at all."

The caller, Johnson said, told him they were about to turn off power to the restaurant.

"They had a technician in the area -- he was actually in route," Johnson recalled the person on the phone telling him. "They were going to be turning the power off at our business location in 45 minute, if this bill wasn't paid."

The caller said the restaurant owed $999.83 from a previous bill in August.

"He indicated that she [a restaurant manager] needed to go either to CVS or 7-Eleven and purchase these same day green dot Moneypak cards to pay right away," Johnson said.

And so they did.  Johnson then contacted the power company asking about it.

"Do you see any payments posted on my account today? She said 'no,'" Johnson said.

Johnson called Richmond Police. and the FBI.  Investigators told him to notify the Federal Trade Commission.

Tom Gallagher with the Better Business Bureau said he sees this kind of scam happens all the time.

"The power company never calls anybody like that,” Gallagher said. "There are signs of scams; speed, secrecy and selectivity."

Gallagher suggested following these tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Do your research.  If you get a call from a utility company, hang up and call that business.
  • Beware of giving personal information over the phone.
  • Beware of door to door sales.
  • And be proactive.  Contact your bank and the credit bureaus, if you think you've been scammed.

"Rarely, is there any chance to get any money back," Gallagher said. "The big opportunity is to save someone else from getting scammed."

The BBB said there’s no way to track down these scammers because they tend to reach out online and over the phone.

Richmond Police are investigating to see if there are more scams like this in our area.


  • Peyton Leigh

    I didn’t realize that there was anyone stupid enough to fall for this scam. Hasn’t this scam been going on forever.
    Next thing you know, they will be wiring money to Nigeria.

  • Sandy

    Red flags, indeed! For that kind of money, it would’ve been worth it to take 10 minutes to confirm the info. Don’t ever recall Va Power giving you a heads up with the exact timing of a service disconnection and I believe they do it remotely these days. Tough lesson learned.

  • Ian Kelley

    The police here locally know about this. I even told them who was doing it, his alias, his real name, and where he DJs in Virginia Beach. I verified all of that with a mutual friend that works where he DJs and the police said they would get back to me… that was 6 months ago.

  • michelle

    Whoever takes charge of paying bills at the restaurant isn’t doing a good job.They send out notices and would already know if they were going to disconnect the power and how much the bill is.I got a call 2 years ago telling me

    • michelle

      I got call 2 years ago and was told I had a virus on my computer and had to go to Cavs and put money on a card to get the virus off the computer that wad going to lock my computer. I said yeah right.I new right away it was a scam. The police just said they couldn’t do anything the calls were coming from another country.

  • G W

    what the heck are green dot cards? It doesn’t surprise me that the restaurant staff staff were scammed, the industry is full of great chefs that don’t know beans about restaurant management.

  • Mike

    First of all, how do you not know how much money you owe for an electric bill! Even, If I thought I owed the money I would look back at my bill to make sure of it. The I would stop at think about how much my bills are normally and see if the number match up.

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