HENNEPIN — According to Putnam County Sheriff Kevin Doyle, phone scammers have begun a clever and complicated new scam which not only targets homeowners, but also businesses.
Posing as representatives of Ameren, the utility company, the scammer will leave a message stating the victim's account is overdue, and immediate payment is required to avoid having their service shut off.
"When you call back, the phone is answered as though you've called Ameren, and there's even a prompt system where you have to push different numbers, so it looks like it's directing your call," Doyle said.
To further the illusion the call is legitimate, the thieves have also found a way to have the victim's proper account number and address.
"I don't know how they're getting that information, but Ameren doesn't do business like that; they'll send several notices prior to shutting someone's power off," Doyle said.
Once the victim is on their hook, the impostor will ask for immediate payment in the form of a credit card number or a pre-paid bank or gift card of some sort.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, impostor scams have bypassed identity theft as the most common consumer complaint, and 77 percent of those consumers said they were first contacted by phone.
Ameren reported they've become aware of an increase in scam-related calls throughout their service territory and said businesses are often targeted. They offered advice in how to detect a scam.
"We'll never demand personal or financial information for an immediate payment, and we always offer several methods to pay your bill, but impostors will generally just provide one option, such as a pre-paid card. Customers can also always contact our call center, and our e-customers can pay online. For those without access to these options, we also have services though grocery stores in some communities where they can pay their bills," Ameren representative Marcelyn Love said.
As con artists continue to develop more complex and convincing swindles, Doyle said there's one red flag which shouldn't be ignored if you want to avoid being taken in by their deception.
"Don't pay with any prepaid cards, once you give that to them, they're gone," he said.