One unfortunate but all too predictable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fertile ground it has created for scammers. In particular, utility scams are on the rise as criminals prey on customers during this period of uncertainty and heightened anxiety.
Ameren Illinois wants to warn business and residential customers about new, more sophisticated tactics scammers are using to trick individuals into giving up their personal information. Recently, we’ve seen them resort to masking their phone numbers to make it appear as if the call is originating from Ameren. They are calling at busy times of the day in an effort to confuse their victims and deploying more aggressive approaches, like asking customers to download payment apps like Cash App or Zelle while keeping the customer on the phone.
Here are some tips on how you can spot a scam:
- Know the different forms of scams such as phone calls, text messages, in-person and online tactics to target customers into providing personal information or payment.
- Scammers often pose as Ameren employees, threatening to disconnect or shut off service if a customer fails to make an immediate payment—typically using a prepaid card or other nontraceable form of payment.
- They often mask incoming calls as coming from Ameren on caller ID systems, and then give a different phone number to make a payment.
- Scammers seize the opportunity to target customers during busy or high-anxiety times such as the holiday season—or the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Fake case number and/or fake truck identification number: Scammers are known to record a voice message and use it to trick customers into thinking they’ve called the utility company. The scammer gives a fake case number and/or fake identification number of a company truck that is in the vicinity of the customer’s home.
- Bogus equipment or repair fee: Scammers may call demanding a separate payment to replace or install a utility-related device or meter.
- Overpayment trick: Scammers call claiming that you’ve overpaid your utility bill and need to provide personal bank account information or a credit card number to facilitate a refund.
And here are some important keys to protecting yourself from a scam:
- Never give your credit card, debit card, social security, ATM, checking or saving account numbers to anyone who calls, sends a text message or email, or comes to your home requesting this information.
- Never purchase a prepaid card or download a payment app 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. Ameren Illinois customers can make payments online, by phone, electronic check, by mail or at in-person pay locations.
We are asking all of our customers to be on high alert. 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. PM
Visit ameren.com/stop-scams for more information, and follow Ameren Illinois on social media to receive the latest updates.