Houston religious leader scammed out of nearly $500 by fake CenterPoint Energy reps

Scammers are everywhere and seem to target victims during the most convenient time, which is exactly what happened to a religious leader in Houston, who lost nearly $500 to fake CenterPoint Energy reps. 

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Kameelah Ahmad tells FOX 26 she was at home Friday afternoon with her 3-year-old daughter when she received an emergency phone call from her husband, Imam Jihad Muhammad with Fifth Ward Islamic Center for Human Development. 

Imam Muhammad was en route to deliver a khutba (sermon) at the mosque for Jummah (Friday) prayers and called his wife in a panic. 

"He said, ‘this is an emergency, I need you to write down this number and write down this extension; we are about to get our gas disconnected," Ahmad explained. "He said, ’this is the CenterPoint guide that I have been talking to, he's very helpful and said he's willing to help us; there is a disconnect notice, and they're coming out to disconnect our services in 30 minutes, but he said there's a way that he can waive the fee, and he can help us out to not get our services disconnected, but I'm on my way to do my prayer, can you please call this number and this extension and talk to this guy?'"

Frantically, Ahmad rushed to grab a pen and paper and called the number of what she thought was the CenterPoint Energy representative. Ahmad mentioned they had also coincidentally not received a bill in the mail or an email about a notice, and the representative seemed convincing at the time.

"I explained to him like, we have not received a bill in like, I want to say almost two months or at least a month that we had not received a bill, and we thought it was very strange that we had not received the bill in the mail," Ahmad said. "And at that point, he said, 'oh, yeah, yeah, we'll get to the bottom of that, a lot of people have been complaining about that lately; we're gonna get to the bottom of this. CenterPoint is committed to our customers."

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The fact that the call also was happening on Labor Day Weekend further tapped into Ahmad's worry about the possibility of getting their utilities shut down. 

"He said, Our bill was $198, and he said you only have to pay $100 of the $198 to stop your services from being disconnected," Ahmad said. "And he said there's a special program was CenterPoint for emergency situations, you can Zelle the money because it was a holiday weekend and that the money - if you tried to pay with your card, the money will not be posted until Tuesday, which means your services will be disconnected. So if you want to stop your services from being disconnected, go ahead and Zelle the money to our financial department." 

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After the first payment reportedly "did not go through" Ahmad sent another $100 and was told they needed to pay a $250 ‘reconnect fee’ to keep the services from being disconnected. In retrospect, Ahmad wishes she could have seen the writing on the wall but was caught up in the heat of the moment. 

"My husband had already called me in a very frantic state," she explained. "And so my whole thing was ‘I have to handle this, I have to not get our services disconnected, I need to do what I have to do to not get our services disconnected.'"

It was not until after Ahmad got back in touch with her husband after the Friday prayer that they realized they'd been had. 

"I told him everything that had just happened, and my husband went on to say, 'that's weird because he didn't tell me that - he's telling you things that he didn't tell me,'' she said. "It just like clicked all of a sudden I said, 'are you sure this was a real CenterPoint Guy? Employee talking to you?' He said, 'you know, come to think of it. I'm not sure.'"

After combing through old bills, she found the real phone number for CenterPoint Energy and discovered they did actually owe money, but it was only $30. While they were unable to recover the money, Ahmad said she did contact her bank at USAA, and they were working with her. 

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Still, the entire experience has her overwhelmed and considering the timing of it all, sends a grim message that nothing is sacred. 

"These are the times that we're living in right now, and I hate to say that, but it is," she said. "Like you can't trust anybody these days." 

FOX 26 reached out to CenterPoint Energy, who shared tips on what to be on the lookout for if customers think they are being scammed and shared the following statement. 

"CenterPoint Energy continues to identify opportunities to mitigate the risk of scam calls to its customers."