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BBB: Phony Utility Shutoff Scams

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(KTVI) - A utility cutoff scam that has been reported recently in Illinois and Iowa apparently has reached Missouri, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

A small business owner in the Missouri Bootheel community of East Prairie said a caller contacted her convenience store earlier this month, claiming to be a representative of Ameren.  He  told her that Ameren would shut off the power to her business within an hour unless she paid an outstanding bill of $697.

“I knew it was a scam,” the woman said. “I know I had paid my bill.”

She immediately contacted a family member who worked for Ameren. He told her that her business was not on the utility’s list for potential cutoffs.

Ameren said similar scams have surfaced in Illinois in recent weeks. In some cases, the potential thieves have asked for payment with prepaid Green Dot MoneyPak cards. In one case, a woman in Central Illinois used a prepaid card to pay a scammer who demanded payment to replace an electric meter in her home.  No work was ever done.

Late last month, ComEd warned its customers to be on the alert for similar utility cutoff scams operating in Illinois. ComEd said that callers claiming to be representatives of the utility told consumers that their service would be disconnected unless they paid immediately. The scammers instructed consumers to load cash onto a prepaid money card and then call back with the card’s personal identification number, allowing thieves to strip money from the card.

The Illinois Commerce Commission says it has received similar reports from ComEd customers. In the Chicago area, scammers posing as utility employees appeared at a customer’s door, demanding payment.

Recently, the Iowa attorney general’s office and officials from Iowa utilities held a press conference in Des Moines to warn Iowans about a similar scam. They said thieves were posing as utility or government representatives to gain access to personal information or to trick consumers into making payments to avoid bogus shutoff threats.

The Quad City Times newspaper reported that Tom Aller, president of Alliant Energy’s Interstate Light & Power Co. said scam artists often target elderly residents, young people and anyone who “lets their guard down. Some utility customers have lost hundreds of dollars in the scams,” he said.

Ameren issued warnings about similar scams in 2009 and 2010.

An Ameren spokesman said a customer would never receive a phone call to notify them of a disconnection without previous written notice. Any disconnection would require at least two written notices.

The BBB and Ameren offer the following tips to consumers who suspect they may be victims of a utility scam:

  • Confirm that you are speaking to a utility representative.  If you have any concerns, tell the caller that you will independently check the phone number for the utility to verify the caller’s identity and information. The toll free number for Missouri Ameren consumers is 1-800-552-7583. Illinois customers may call 1-800-755-5000.
  • Be wary of anyone demanding immediate payment or payment in forms that are difficult to trace, such as Western Union, MoneyGram or GreenDot MoneyPak cash cards.
  • Never give your credit card, debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or savings account numbers to anyone who comes to your home, calls or sends an email requesting information.
  • Never allow anyone claiming to be a utility service person into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment and the person has proper identification. Contact police if you become concerned about your safety.
  • If you believe you may be the victim of a scam, you may contact your utility company, or you may call the BBB at 314-645-3300.