It started with a phone call.

Ron Shrybman, owner of the Elgin Street Diner, says a woman, identifying herself with Hydro Ottawa, claimed someone was on their way to shut off the power to the diner if Shrybman's hydro bill wasn't paid in 15 minutes. It was lunch time and the diner was packed. 

"For a restaurant, not having power is catastrophic," he says. "Food goes bad, I can't operate, there's no ventilation. I mean, it's a disaster."

Shyrbman was told Hydro Ottawa no longer accepted credit cards or payments from the bank. Instead, he was instructed to get a pay power reload pack, a certain type of prepaid visa, and it had to come from Home Depot or Pharmasave.

"I raced to the bank and it was $4,000. I got the cash and raced to get this magic card."

"We went to one pharmacy and they didn't have it. Went to another pharmacy and they didn't have it. And then I stopped and questioned myself thinking 'This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done in my life!'"

Shrybman says he hasn't missed a hydro payment in over 20 years. The bill he was also being told to pay isn't due until October 27th. So he called Hydro Ottawa and was alerted to the scam. But it was very convincing. 

"Elgin St. Diner is out there but not my operating corporation number, my name, my date of birth and the exact amount that I owe hydro," he says. "It was as good a scam as I've ever seen in my life."

Hydro Ottawa sent out a warning to customers two weeks ago and also alerted Ottawa Police. In an email, the company says "Hydro Ottawa's collections process includes serveral mail notices and a hand delivered notice prior to electricity disconnection."

The company also says utility customers in the Toronto area and Thunder Bay have received similar calls.

Shrybman admits he's embarrassed, but is telling his story to warn others.

"If someone calls you and says you owe Hydro mone, call Hydro back. Go to the website, call the Hydro number, and go through the process with them."

Anyone who receives a suspicious call impersonating Hydro Ottawa is advised to contact the Ottawa Police Fraud Unit at 613-236-1222 ext. 5433.

If the resident or business owner is not sure if the call is legitimate, they should ask for the caller’s identification and call Hydro Ottawa at 613-738-6400 to verify.