BEVERLY — Jimmy Jamm's Sweet Potato Cafe in Beverly found itself in a jam last week.
Owner Harold Ferguson knew that he forgot to pay the electric bill for the shop he owns with his wife, Jimmy, at 1844 W. 95th St. That's when he received a call at 9:55 a.m. Aug. 16 from someone he thought was with ComEd.
The Fergusons opened their modest shop known for making sweet potato pies a decade ago, and Harold Ferguson feared that everything in the refrigerators would spoil if his power was cut off.
So, he listened intently to the person on the other end of the phone, who told him payment was needed immediately. Rather than pay via check has he had in the past, the caller told Ferguson to purchase two prepaid credit cards for $250 each.
The call seemed legit. The person on the other end of the line had the shop's account number, knew exactly how much he owed and had other specifics. Ferguson followed their instructions, purchased the cards at a nearby Walgreens and read them the numbers over the phone.
It wasn't until after giving them this information that the call ended with an abrupt hang-up. That's when he became suspicious, but it was too late. The Fergusons were swindled out of $500.
"They caught me on my weakest moment," Ferguson said Tuesday. "They got me once, but they won't get me again."
Word of the scam spread via Facebook, eventually catching the attention of the Southwest Chicago Diversity Collaborative. This group was formed in 2014 to promote diversity around issues of race, gender, sexuality and religion in the 19th Ward.
The collaborative has since organized a pair of fundraisers. The first is a "cash mob," which encourages members and other supporters to flood the pie shop with business from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.
The online fundraiser also aims to raise $1,000 to help Jimmy Jamm's replace a pair of broken windows at its humble storefront. The windows were been broken in December along with others at storefronts nearby.
Harold Ferguson and his neighbors have spoken with police about the damage. It appears that an individual with mental illness is to blame, but police have been unable to catch the suspect, he said.
"The police are saying they have no clues," said Ferguson, whose shop is now features a large sheet of plywood covering one damaged window and a piece of cardboard covering another hole in the glass.
Another $140 was tacked onto the effort to pay GoFundMe's transaction fees.
The Fergusons work full-time jobs in addition to running the pie shop. Harold Ferguson works for the Chicago Transit Authority. Jimmy Ferguson works with individuals with developmental disabilities.
Harold Ferguson isn't proud of being swindled but has decided to speak openly about it in an effort to keep others from falling victim to the same scam.
The pair are also thankful for the efforts of the Beverly community and the continued support of customers who seek out their family-owned pie shop that began when Jimmy Ferguson's father quietly passed along his recipe one Thanksgiving.
"I thank God for the diversity of customers here," Harold Ferguson said. "It feels good that our product is loved by so many customers."