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June 4, 2015

Criminals Call Iowa Businesses, Threaten to Cut Power

Businesses across Iowa are reporting that criminals claiming to represent their local power company are calling and threatening to shut off their electricity unless they make immediate payment through a prepaid debit card.

“Over the past several days we have received a surge of reports of this scam, and so, too, have Iowa utility companies,” Attorney General Tom Miller said. “Anyone who takes a call like this should hang up. Unfortunately, some businesses have paid money to these criminals fearing that they were about to lose power and, as a result, business.”

In this scam, a caller claims that the call recipient owes the utility company an overdue balance, and must make an “electronic payment” within a matter of hours or the company will shut off the recipient’s power. The caller directs the recipient to go to a local store that sells reloadable debit cards, such as a Green Dot prepaid debit card. Once the recipient obtains the money card and loads it with funds, the caller requests a card number and obtains the funds.

“This scam is not unique to Iowa--it’s occurring nationwide,” Miller noted. “Currently we’re seeing a significant jump in the number of scam reports across Iowa,” he added. “The best that we can hope for is that Iowans get the word to hang up the phone when they answer a call like this.”

Criminals generally operate this type of scam from foreign countries. They manipulate caller-ID devices, called “spoofing,” to appear as if their calls originate from the local utility company. If they successfully obtain a payment through a prepaid debit card, it is often impossible to recover the lost funds.

General Advice

  • If you get a call from someone who claims they are collecting on behalf of your local utility—even if a caller ID device shows the utility—hang up.
  • Utilities do not demand immediate payment via prepaid debit cards and threaten immediate disconnection.
  • Do not provide or confirm personal information or financial information to anyone who calls.
  • To confirm your account status with your utility, call the company using the number listed on your monthly utility bill, phone book or known website. Do not call the number listed on your caller ID.
  • You do not need to report the scam if you receive a call. However, if you lost money through the scam, report it to your local police department or sheriff’s office.

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