Police: Phony Ameren calls part of scam

News-DemocratMarch 31, 2014 

AP GRAPHIC

Collinsville police are warning residents and businesses of a phone scam from callers claiming to be Ameren employees asking for payment of delinquent bills.

Ryan Zinke, general manager with Herr Funeral Home in Collinsville, said the caller claimed Ameren would cut power to the business within half an hour unless he provided credit card information to the caller.

"I said that's funny. The check cleared the bank at such and such a date. At that exact time, I knew it was a scam," Zinke said. "The odd thing is he knew what the payment of the last month's bill."

The caller claimed the check appearing to be cleared was a glitch in the system, Zinke said. The scammer went on to claim Ameren would send the check back but they needed the credit card information right away.

Ameren Illinois will never threaten to turn off a business or residence's power unless payment is made over the phone, according to spokesman Brian Bretsch.

"First of all, we always work with customers with any payment issues to work out a payment plan. Secondly, we will never call somebody up and say in 30 minutes to an hour you must make a payment or we will disconnect your power," Bretsch said. "We've already had it in some communities (scam artists) calling them at 7 p.m. and say we are going to come out at midnight and shut you off. It's crazy how bold these scam artists are."

Bretsch and police urge people to contact Ameren Illinois and verify payment information before giving financial information out over the phone. Ameren also has a scam alert team that works with local authorities, Bretsch said.

At least five businesses have been contacted by the unknown callers.

When Zinke told the caller he believed it was a scam, the person hung up. Zinke said the scammer's voicemail was set up claiming to be the Ameren billing department.

"Unfortunately, there are bad people out and everyone needs to be careful," Zinke said.

Customers may reach Ameren Illinois by calling 800-755-5000 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Businesses may call 800-232-2477 in the same service hours.

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