ST. LOUIS, Nov. 16, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The nation's leading energy companies are joining forces to raise awareness about a long-running scam that has cost utility customers millions of dollars. On Nov. 16, the coalition will activate a social and traditional media campaign to expose the tricks behind a scam that dupes customers into using a pre-paid debit card to avoid service disconnection. "Utilities United Against Scams Day" will also focus on the steps customers can take to protect themselves.
"We have a responsibility to help our customers avoid being the victim of these costly scams," said Tim Reagan, senior director of Corporate Security at Ameren. "By combining the voices of our utility peers, our message will reach more customers throughout the country in an effort to prevent more scams from occurring."
Last year an estimated 1,500 Ameren customers reported suspicious activity. The majority of those incidents were phone calls from scammers who threatened immediate disconnection of utility service unless a payment was made from a pre-paid debit card.
In this scam, a customer receives an unsolicited phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be an Ameren representative. The scammer warns that Ameren will disconnect the customer's electric service if the customer fails to make a payment – usually within a short timeframe.
Scammers have even duplicated the Ameren upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate Ameren phone number. Some of these criminals also use caller ID spoofing to replicate Ameren's customer service number.
Red flags for scam activity
- The thief becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn't made – usually within less than an hour.
- The thief instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to Ameren.
- The scammer asks the customer for the pre-paid card's receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card's funds.
How to protect yourself
- Ameren never asks or requires a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a pre-paid debit card to avoid disconnection.
- Customers can make payments online, by phone, electronic check, mail or at pay in person locations.
- Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification by mail with the regular monthly billing and by phone several days in advance – never a single notification hours before disconnection.
- 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. Customers should also follow Ameren on social media to receive the latest updates on scams.
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.
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SOURCE Ameren Corporation