Businesses: beware of utility scams

June 11, 2014
In the last two months, several businesses throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and other states have become the latest victims in a utility scam that targets businesses.
Here’s how the scam works: A scammer calls a business and claims to be a representative of a local utility company. The scammer tells the business owner that there’s a large, overdue balance and that he/she needs to pay immediately or the business’ utilities will be turned off.
Next, the scammer instructs the owner to purchase a GreenDot Money Pak card, or another form of prepaid debit card, and provides a call back number. Once the business owner has purchased the cards, often for hundreds of dollars, he calls the scammer back and provides the account and PIN numbers. Unfortunately, once the business owner provides that information, the money loaded onto the debit card is gone. In May, a business owner in Lake Zurich (Illinois) lost $1,300, and in April, an Elm Grove (Wisconsin) gas station owner lost $2,700 to the scam.
Although the BBB has seen these types of scams before, the frequency seems to rise in the summer. Two Wisconsin utility companies, We Energies and Alliant Energy, both posted warnings on their websites last year.
If your business receives a similar call, don’t be pressured to pay immediately. Instead, verify the alleged overdue balance by hanging up the phone and contacting your utility company. In addition, it should always be considered a red flag if someone asks for payment via a prepaid debit card. Utility companies don’t ask their customers to pay their bills using prepaid debit cards. Lastly, share this information with your employees, so they’re not fooled by the scam either.
Written By: Susan Bach, NE Regional Director at BBB Serving Wisconsin