State officials say changes in technology are likely behind the rise in scams that prey on consumers by posing as billing representatives for regulated utilities.
MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy and Interstate Power and Light joined Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller at the Capitol Wednesday to warn consumers of the rise in scams.
“This year we have seen scammers target all kinds of people from the elderly to the very young and families who don’t speak English to those who do,” said Tom Aller, president of Interstate Power and Light.
The scam artists typically contact consumers claiming that they are behind on their utility payments and even warning that the household faces disconnection of their electrical or gas service if they don’t bring their account current immediately, utility officials said. One scam artist even got a consumer to provide a credit card number, supposedly to buy a $500 prepaid card that the caller claimed was needed to restore service.
Bill Brauch of the Iowa Attorney General’s office said the uptick is probably due to technological changes that make it easier for scam artists to contact consumers and process payments without being identified.
Utility officials told consumers they should not give out credit card numbers or other personal information when someone calls, but instead should independently look up their utility’s consumer billing phone number and call their utility to determine if there is a billing issue.
The scam artists use technology to mask their true phone number of caller ID or use “throwaway” cell phones with a temporary number, and are able to avoid being traced through the processing of the payments, state officials said.
Attorney General Tom Miller said the scam artists are clever. He described results of enforcement efforts to thwart them as “mixed.”