Local business owners are being targeted by con men who are posing as Ameren Illinois bill collectors.
Ameren spokesman Brian Bretsch said two businesses, one in La Salle and one in Ottawa, received scam calls today. He declined to name the businesses for privacy reasons, but said scammers are "targeting restaurants and mom-and-pop-type businesses."
"The scam artists are very convincing," said Richard J. Mark, president and CEO for Ameren Illinois. "They are using scare tactics and threatening to disconnect electric service if an immediate payment is not made."
Mark said Ameren Illinois sends notices in the mail if any residential or business customer happens to fall behind in an electric or natural gas payment.
"Our policy is to always work with our customers to resolve any payment questions," Mark said. "Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason. If a caller claims to be an Ameren Illinois representative and demands immediate payment or threatens to disconnect your service, hang up and call us at 1-800-755-5000."
Several business owners have called local authorities and Ameren Illinois after receiving phone calls from an individual claiming to be from the electric company.
To help thwart the potential scam, Ameren Illinois issued an email alerting more than 300,000 customers about the scam. These customers have opted-in to receive email communications.
Here's how the scam works:
The scam artists are instructing the business owner to buy a Green Dot MoneyPak debit card which the business owner can load with $500. The scam artist has the business owner call them back with the pin number to easily remove the cash.
"And just like that, the victim's money is gone," Mark said.
The scammers are also using a device that hooks up to a computer or laptop and works as a non-traceable local phone number to make the call.
Ameren Illinois offers these tips against scammers:
- Never give your credit card, debit card, Social Security, ATM, checking or saving account numbers to anyone who comes to your home, calls or sends an email requesting this information.
- Never allow anyone into your home who wants to check your electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a natural gas leak and the person has proper identification.
- Ameren Illinois employees always carry photo identification, which includes name, employee number and an official Ameren Illinois logo.
- If you suspect someone is impersonating an Ameren Illinois employee, end the conversation and immediately call Ameren Illinois, 1-800-755-5000.