Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 21, 2014

Utility company warns of scams

By STACI ANN WILSON WRIGHT | Jul 03, 2013

Officials at Alliant Energy are warning customers that a string of scam phone calls targeting utility customers that began just before Christmas is continuing this summer.

Ryan Stensland, spokesperson for Alliant Energy, said the company is again receiving complaints from customers who report receiving phone calls that threaten electric service disconnection and ask them to purchase a prepaid card. These complaints are similar to reports received in winter and spring.

“Before Christmas, we saw a scam where people were calling our customers and saying, ‘Hey, you need to get your light bill paid up by the end of the year or the utility company is going to shut your power off,’” Stensland said.

“During January and February, another scam started circulating where customers were receiving calls telling them they had to pay their utility bill today or the electric company was going to come out and shut them off immediately,” said Stensland.

Stensland said the 10 confirmed scam phone calls have happened throughout Alliant’s service area but it is impossible for officials at the utility to know exactly how widespread the problem is because many people don’t report failed scam attempts. Additionally, some people have not yet realized they have been the victim of a scam.

Other utility companies have reported similar scam activity in other parts of the state. Utility company customers are common targets because almost everyone uses electricity, Stensland said.

While these types of scams used to happen primarily at Christmastime, Stensland said scam activity is no longer isolated to the holiday season and is happening all of the time. Other utility companies are seeing an increase in these scams, as well, Stensland said.

“More and more, this is becoming a more common occurrence,” Stensland said. “It’s not just a once-a-year type thing. These scams are happening more and more frequently.”

Making matters worse is that scammers have the technological know-how to spoof caller-ID displays, which means they can mask the call’s true origin and make it appear as if someone really is calling from a utility company.

“These scam artists have become more sophisticated. Initially, people reporting these scams indicated the calls were all apparently coming from one number, but now, caller-ID is throwing up random numbers, which makes it all the more difficult to track them,” Stensland said. “For example, someone may be calling from Fairfield but the caller-ID will indicate the call is coming from California.”

Scams also are not limited to the telephone, Stensland said. In the recent past, door-to-door scams also have occurred.

“We’ve received reports of not just phone scams but door-to-door impersonation of an Alliant employee,” he said. “A person portraying a utility rep will knock on the customer’s door and inform the customer that if he does not provide them with a check, their power will be cut off immediately,” Stensland said. “For some folks, that scares the heck out of them. They think they have to do something immediately.

“The fact is, we don’t have representatives going around door-to-door doing that,” he said. “If someone from our company would stop by your house, it would most likely be a utility worker telling you there was some work on your line, and they will have proper identification.”

The best line of defense against all scams is for customers to be educated about their company’s collection policies and procedures.

“Customers need to know, we would never do this over the phone nor would we send a collection agent to your door. This is not how Alliant Energy does business,” he said.

Alliant Energy does not ask customers to purchase prepaid credit cards nor do they ask customers to make immediate cash payments over the phone.

The company has several secure and convenient payment options available to customers. These are listed at alliantenergy.com/payment options or they can be accessed through customer service.

Stensland said if customers receive a suspicious phone call or door-to-door contact from someone posing as a utility company employee, they should take the following steps:

• If someone calls claiming they represent Alliant Energy and they demand immediate payment or personal information, hang up and call Alliant Energy immediately. Do not give in to a high-pressure caller seeking personal information.

• Do not provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests that information during an unsolicited phone call or an unannounced visit.

• Customers should report attempted scams to local law enforcement at 472-4146 and the Iowa Attorney General by visiting iowaattorneygeneral.org, or calling 888-777-4590.

“The attorney general’s office and local authorities have been very good at working with us to stop this,” Stensland said. “A lot of times, it’s tough to track them down, but we are all working on it. We’re trying to put a stop to it.”

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