Scammers are expanding the way they are trying to bilk the public out of their money.
Ameren Illinois announced a spike in utility-based scams this week.
Brian Bretsch with Media Relations for Ameren Illinois says the utility company has seen a spike in both reporting of scam calls and victims of the scams.
“When we see a spike like that, it is actually customers who take the time after they have received one of these calls to call us at our eight-hundred number, which is 1-800-755-5000 to report it. So just in the last week across our service territory, we have seventy-five who called us.
Unfortunately, five customers were duped, and when I mean duped, they did pay out money, and the total group lost about thirty-one hundred dollars. Unfortunately that, a customer in Springfield lost a total of two thousand dollars.”
Bretsch says scammers are now using smartphone technology to get money from their victims which they can access in a matter of seconds.
“They are asking out customers to download a cash app. And they are saying- okay, we will stay on the line, you download that cash app and if you don’t make an immediate payment, then we are going to send someone out and disconnect you right away.
But by downloading the cash app, you are able to, in the case of the Springfield customer who unfortunately transferred two thousand dollars, and within a couple of seconds that two thousand dollars are transferred to the scam artist’s cash app and you are out that money.”
According to a report by WMAY in Springfield, the victims are being asked to download the cash app Zelle to their smartphone or tablet to make the payments.
Bretsch says some scammers still use the now seemingly older tactic of asking their victims to use prepaid gift cards to pay their supposed delinquent accounts. He says Ameren will never contact customers in this way.
“What we want our customers to know is that Ameren Illinois is never going to call you to demand immediate payment through a text, a phone call, or an email. We will reach out to you one of those ways to let you know if you are late on your bill, but we are going to give you several opportunities to make that payment.
So again, if you feel like someone is asking you to download a cash app for anything like a utility payment, or any sort of payment, take the time, take a deep breath, and simply hang up the phone.”
Bretsch says to tell the scammer you are in the middle of something and will have to call them back, and they will almost always give you a contact number. He says to hang up the phone, take a deep breath and call the Ameren toll-free number to report the call. The representative can also check the status of your billing cycle.
Ameren Illinois reminds people not to give out a credit card, bank account, social security, or any other information over the phone, through email, or via text, and say customers should pay their bills in the normal manner they pay them.
If you suspect you are being scammed, hang up the phone and call Ameren a 1-800-755-5000.