September 3, 2014

Officials say there’s an increase in utility scams

Executives with electric utilities in Iowa say there’s been an increase in scams this year as con artists try to convince Iowans their power will be cut off if they don’t pay up.

Interstate Power and Light Company president Tom Aller says just last week four small business customers of his company reported someone was calling them, threatening their power would be cut off if they didn’t pay $500.

“It seems the holidays bring out the worst in people, trying to do these kind of things,” Aller says.

Some customers are even getting disconnection threats via text.

“I think the technology, as it explodes, provides the folks who understand all that different ways to try to access our customer base and we’re seeing more of it,” Aller says.

MidAmerican Energy vice president Dean Crist says customers of his company have reported 200 telephone scams so far this year.

“Sometimes the caller will give them a number to call back and verify,” Crist says. “Well, it’s just part of the scam.”

Crist encourages utility customers to hang up and call the number printed on their bill or find their utility’s number in a telephone directory. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined with the utility executives today at a statehouse news conference to urge Iowans to be wary.

“The people that do consumer fraud are pretty clever. They’re very brazen and they’re pretty topical,” Miller said. “They figure out what’s on people’s winds…where the opportunity and, of course, being cut off from a utility is a very important and concerning event for people.”

By state law, there is a moratorium on utility disconnections in low-income households during the winter, until warmer temperatures arrive in the spring. That moratorium went into effect November 1st, but the attorney general and utility officials say few low income Iowans who’re confronted by these scams know of the law.