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Ameren warns customers to watch out for utility scams

Widjaya Ivan | Flickr
Roughly 1,500 Ameren customers have been targeted by utility scammers.

Ameren is working to address the rising number of sham calls that have impacted roughly 1,500 of its customers. The utility company has racked up nearly 30 calls a week from people who have reported being on the receiving end of the ruse.

According to Ameren, the scam callers have been impersonating their employees, claiming they will disconnect the customer’s service unless they make an immediate payment.

Brianne Vaught, a spokesperson for Ameren, said that elderly, low-income, and non-English speakers are likely to be caught in the scam. However, small businesses remain the most vulnerable target. Typically, scammers call businesses during the busiest hours of the day when an employee is most likely to answer the phone and not the owner.

“When a small business hears this and…[goes] to the nearest retailer to pick up a prepaid money card, they automatically go into action,” Vaught said. “A lot of times the scammers when they scam the small businesses, it’s usually a higher amount a higher dollar amount.”

Ameren is currently collaborating with more than 100 other utility companies nationwide as part of the Utilities United Against Scams effort, as well as local and federal law enforcement to address the problem.

Despite these efforts, the imposters still present a challenge because of their approach. In addition to phone calls, some scammers make in-person visits and use online tactics to reel in unsuspecting customers.

“The scammers are very aggressive and they’re getting very tricky with their tactics,” Vaught said. “And although we’re able to report a lot of scams, we have noticed an uptick in certain months.”

Illinois saw an increase in fake calls in October and September. In that case, Ameren sent employees to mom and pop shops in the area to inform them about the scam calls and advise them of ways to avoid falling prey to the charade.

Vaught said people should be more mindful during the holiday season, because scammers tend to ramp up their calls.

“We always see a high yield of scams, especially during the holidays, because people are more susceptible to giving and making sure that their payments are available,” Vaught said.

Ameren has already put together some useful tips to prevent more customers from being affected. The utility company advises customers to avoid divulging personal information, such as Social Security numbers, credit and/or debit cards and additional banking information.

Also, Ameren recommends ending the call immediately if a utility company scammer is asking for an immediate payment. Customers should not buy prepaid cards in order to prevent their service from being cut off. Ameren said utility companies don’t ask for a specific payment method.

Customers who believe they’re on the receiving end of a scammers call needs to report it to Ameren immediately.


Follow Marissanne on Twitter @marissane2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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