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July 16, 2008

Beware of Phony "Utility" Calls Rushing You to Make a Credit CardPayment

Callers pose as utility employees and insist on payment “to prevent disconnection.”

Des Moines. Iowans are receiving phone calls in which the callers -- falsely -- claim to be from the utility company, and claim that the customers’ utility service will be disconnected very soon unless they make a payment at once.

“It appears to be a scam to get your credit card number,” warned Attorney General Tom Miller.
“Our utilities never operate like that,” Miller said. “Don’t be buffaloed into giving out your credit card account number, bank account, Social Security number, or other personal information. This scam appears to be hitting all over Iowa.”

Miller sounded the warning at a news conference Wednesday in Des Moines. He was joined by Elaine Deal of Des Moines (who gave her credit card number but immediately realized it was a scam and took all the correct remedial steps); Jennifer Stockman of Johnston (who thwarted her grandmother being scammed); and Ann Thelen, MidAmerican Energy Director of Media Relations. [See photo below.]

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More details and information:

MidAmerican and Alliant Energy report dozens of customers have received such calls since spring. Customers have provided their credit card or debit card numbers, and then discovered the call was a scam when they checked with the utility. Some gave credit card numbers to “pay” amounts in the range of $20 to over $200 to avoid threatened disconnection.

Miller said his office thinks the calls are coming from out of state, perhaps even from overseas or Canada, where many fraudulent telemarketers are based now. One Iowa consumer’s card number apparently was used at a New York restaurant shortly after it was obtained through one of the calls.

In some instances, consumers reported the “caller I.D.” of the scam calls indicated – falsely – that the call was from the utility company. “Caller-ID can be ‘spoofed’ or falsified,” Miller said.

“Never give your key information when you did not place the call,” he said. “The utility companies will not ask for your financial information like this. If someone raises a question about your utility account, look up the utility’s regular number and call the utility yourself to check it out.”

MidAmerican residential customers can call toll-free at 888-427-5632. Alliant customers can call toll-free at 800-ALLIANT, or 800-255-4268. Customers from any utility can find customer service numbers on their bills or in the phone book.

The utility companies and Attorney General’s Office advise victims to contact their card-issuer and local law enforcement if they were tricked into providing their credit card or debit card numbers.

“Fast action is important,” Miller said. “We’ve heard that credit card accounts have been used immediately by the scammer.”

Miller said victims will not be “stuck” having to pay for fraudulent use of their credit cards, but he said it was another form of identity theft that takes time and effort to unravel – if it is noticed at all.

“It’s one more reason to review your credit card and bank statements every month,” he said, “just to be sure there are no unauthorized charges.”

He said consumers should contact their card issuer immediately if someone tricked them into giving their account information, or if their account has unauthorized charges. Unauthorized charges should be disputed to the card issuer, in writing, within sixty days of appearing on a credit card bill.

Even if consumers aren’t fooled by a phony caller, Miller encouraged them to notify their utility company and the Attorney General’s Office about the call so officials can keep tabs on the scam and capture any useful information. Call the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at 888-777-4590 toll-free, or 281-5926 in Des Moines. Send e-mail to

The scam appeared before this year’s flooding, but now the flood might be woven into the scam phone call, Miller said. One consumer who told a caller that she would have received a disconnect notice if she was behind in payments was told such notices got lost in the flood.

Contact for MidAmerican: Ann Thelen, Director of Media Relations, 515-281-2785.
Contact for Alliant Energy: Ryan Stensland, 319-786-4040. Contact for Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives:  Allan Urlis, Dir. of Communications, 515-727-8945.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Ann Thelen of MidAmerican Energy, Jennifer Stockman, Elaine Deal.

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