Ameren Corporation and more than 100 North American utilities are exposing the tactics scammers use to steal millions of dollars from its customers by observing the second annual Utility Scam Awareness Day on Nov. 15.
Ameren is part of the Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) collaborative, a group of electric, water, and natural gas utilities and trade associations that work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute scammers. Ameren and UUAS members are working to raise awareness of scams and educate consumers before they become victims.
Approximately 1,500 Ameren customers are targeted annually by imposter utility scams, said Tim Reagan, senior director of Corporate Security at Ameren. Scammers typically use phone, in-person, and online tactics to target these customers. Posing as electric, water, or natural gas company employees, scammers threaten that customers’ services will be disconnected or shut off if they fail to make an immediate payment – typically using a prepaid card or other non-traceable form of payment.
"Scammers have been targeting mostly small business customers throughout Ameren's service area, as well as more vulnerable demographics," Reagan said. "Small businesses are particularly susceptible to scams because the attempts are made during their busiest hours, occasionally yield higher dollar amounts and the employees affected aren't usually the ones making utility payments."
“Impostor utility scams can be highly profitable to scammers and financially detrimental to consumers,” said UUAS Executive Director and former Texas Utility Consumer Advocate Sheri Givens. “To prevent future crimes, it is important to educate community leaders and consumers on how to spot, avoid, and report scams.”
Signs of potential scam activity
• Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell the customer his or her utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
• Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct the customer to purchase a prepaid card – widely available at retail stores – then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment to his or her utility company.
• Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card’s funds, and the victim’s money is gone.
How to protect yourself
• Never give your credit card, debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or saving account numbers to anyone who calls, sends an email, or comes to your home requesting this information.
• Don't trust anyone asking for immediate payment. If you suspect someone is impersonating an Ameren employee, end the conversation and immediately call Ameren Illinois at 1.800.755.5000 or Ameren Missouri at 1.800.552.7583.
• Never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Legitimate utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill. Ameren customers can make payments online, by phone, electronic check, mail or at pay in person locations.
About Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS)
UUAS is dedicated to combating impostor utility scams by providing a forum for utilities and trade associations to share data and best practices, in addition to working together to implement initiatives to inform and protect customers. Visit UtilitiesUnited.org for more information and tips about how customers can protect themselves from scams or follow along on social media: Twitter @U_U_A_S and Facebook @UtilitiesUnited.
About Ameren Corporation
St. Louis-based Ameren Corporation powers the quality of life for 2.4 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in a 64,000-square-mile area through its Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois rate-regulated utility subsidiaries. Ameren Illinois provides electric distribution and transmission service, as well as natural gas distribution service, while Ameren Missouri provides vertically integrated electric service, with generating capacity of over 10,200 megawatts, and natural gas distribution service. Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois develops regional electric transmission projects. Follow the company on Twitter @AmerenCorp. For more information, visit Ameren.com.