LANSING, Mich., Nov. 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Officials from Consumers Energy, Michigan State Police and prominent business organizations encouraged Michigan business owners and residents to take steps to protect themselves from ongoing customer scams that continue across the state entering this holiday season.
"We are aware of over 1,000 attempts by criminals to con small business owners into making payments they believe are intended for Consumers Energy," said Annette Gardiner, Consumers Energy's vice president for shared services. "We want to provide the public with information to recognize and report these criminal attempts, and to make sure they don't become a victim."
Small businesses served by Consumers Energy have made at least $81,000 in payments to scammers this year, according to information the energy provider has compiled.
Typically, a caller will contact a small business, such as a store or a restaurant; pretend to be from Consumers Energy; and demand payment within an hour or two using a prepaid credit or debit card. The scam has been reported in 57 counties.
"Law enforcement agencies continue to work with victims to bring perpetrators to justice, but the best defense against this crime is public awareness," said Capt. Christopher Stolicker, commander of the Michigan State Police Special Investigation Division. "Never give personal information or money over the phone to anyone you do not know."
Officials from Consumers Energy, Michigan State Police, the Small Business Association of Michigan and Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan spoke about customer scams during a news conference today at state police headquarters in Lansing. They also provided warning signs to help people protect themselves against customer fraud.
Telephone scammers may do the following:
- Demand payment within a short time frame.
- Threaten service will be shut off if payment is not made.
- Insist on a specific form of payment, such as a pre-paid credit card commonly purchased at a convenience store.
- May seek personal or account information.
- May have an account number or what sounds like the proper bill amount
- May "spoof" a caller's phone, making it appear as if the call comes from Consumers Energy.
- May provide an 800 or 888 number to call that is not legitimate.
"Small businesses help form the backbone of our state's economy, but many of them can be hurt greatly if they are scammed out of even a few hundred dollars," said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan. "We are committed to helping our members be aware of scams, and encourage them to report if they believe they have been targets of fraud."
Consumers Energy reminded the public that it does not demand payment in less than 24 hours, nor does it force customers to use a single payment method, such as a prepaid credit card. The energy provider encouraged customers with concerns to call 800-477-5050. Company representatives can confirm if they're being contacted legitimately.
"Sadly, many people find themselves the targets of attempts to con them out of their money, often by pretending to represent trusted companies such as Consumers Energy," said Phil Catlett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan. "People should know that resources are available, such as a scam tracker that we offer online, to help them make safe decisions, and to put these criminals out of business."
Consumers Energy, Michigan's largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.6 million of the state's 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.
Energy scam payments
Michigan counties with the most reports this year of phone scammers pretending to be from Consumers Energy:
- GENESEE – 149 calls, $15,883 paid
- KENT – 124 calls, $7,061 paid
- KALAMAZOO – 94 calls, $16,228 paid
- INGHAM – 76 calls, $9,161 paid
- JACKSON – 50 calls, $1,239 paid
- SAGINAW – 45 calls, $3,900 paid
- OTTAWA – 37 calls, $460 paid
- LENAWEE – 34 calls, $2,007 paid
- ALLEGAN – 33 calls, $1,750 paid
- BAY – 32 calls, $3,364 paid
*as of Nov. 6
WAYS TO PAY: Consumers Energy does not demand payment via a prepaid card, a preferred method of many scammers. Customers can pay bills in the following ways:
- Over a secure Internet site
- Via U.S. mail
- In person at an authorized pay agent location
- By Visa, MasterCard or eCheck using an authorized Consumers Energy EasyPay agent
Learn more: www.ConsumersEnergy.com/waystopay
LEARN MORE: People can arm themselves with information through the following resources:
- West Michigan Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org/western-michigan
- Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org/detroit/
- Small Business Association of Michigan: https://www.sbam.org/
Media Contacts: Consumers Energy: Brian Wheeler, 517-740-1545, or Debra Dodd, 517-545-8711 Michigan State Police: Sierra Medrano, 517-241-0977
For more information about Consumers Energy, go to www.ConsumersEnergy.com.
Check out Consumers Energy on Social Media Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/consumersenergymichigan Twitter: https://twitter.com/consumersenergy YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/consumersenergy Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/consumersenergy/
SOURCE Consumers Energy