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New twist on utility phone scam is concerning customers

Caller uses switch from IPL to AES to get money
Jackie Burns of Lawrence nearly gave $750 to a utility phone scammer.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 18:40:09-04

LAWRENCE — Utility companies are seeing an uptick in phone scams in Central Indiana in which the caller claims they’re going to shut off your power.

WRTV Investigates has learned the scam has taken on a new twist that is making customers even more vulnerable to the scam.

Jackie Burns of Lawrence relies on power to cook, keep the lights on and keep her home cool.

"I try to do everything right. I pay my bills and I pay them on time,” said Burns.

So when her phone rang with AES’s phone number on her caller ID, she was alarmed.

"It was a message saying your power will be disconnected later today, press 1 to speak to the billing department,” said Burns. “That got me concerned. I pressed one and it was a man saying my account was flagged for nonpayment for 3 months."

Burns told them she paid her AES bills on time, but the caller hit her with a new angle.

He told her that when IPL became AES back in February, they switched payment platforms and sent her an email asking her to move her data to the AES portal.

“He said ‘you were supposed to click on a link to transfer your data to the new payment platform. Did you do that?’” said Burns. “I said ‘I don't remember anything like that,’"

The caller asked her to pay a $500 fee to stop the disconnection, as well as $250 in past due bills.

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"This started to sound vaguely fishy to me, but there was just a kernel of legitimacy in the form of the platform change,” said Burns.

When the caller asked Burns to pay via Zelle, a mobile payment app, she knew it was a scam.

“Red flags went up in my mind that a legitimate company would not ask for a wire transfer like that,” said Burns.

Burns called AES and Lawrence Police who confirmed it was a utility phone scam.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana says it’s making a resurgence in central Indiana.

“Scammers will target a particular area, and right now they're targeting Central Indiana,” said Maniscalo. “Until they get found out, and then they'll move someplace else. It's kind of a game of whack a mole where they'll be here one day and in another city next week. "

Scammers are getting more convincing too.

They have detailed explanations, like the switch from IPL to AES, and they spoof phone numbers to make them look like they’re coming from your power company.

"Don't be fooled by your caller ID,” said Maniscalo. “You can get an app that will make caller ID look like any number you want it to."

Burns knows many scams originate overseas.

"They spoke perfect English and that was another thing that made me think it was legitimate,” said Burns.

Burns did not give them any money, but did provide her name, address and 20 minutes of her time.

"I've got a degree in finance, you'd think I know better,” said Burns.

Burns contacted WRTV Investigates because she wants you to know just how savvy scammers are getting.

“I want to tell people my experience so they don't go through the same thing that I do,” said Burns.

WRTV Investigates checked with AES Indiana, and the company says it is not true they’ve changed their payment platform.

“These calls are not being made by the company,” said Kelly Young, a spokesperson for AES Indiana, in an email to WRTV. “Please be aware that this is an industry-wide problem that has affected many utilities across the country. AES Indiana is working with authorities to stop this unauthorized activity.”

AES provided the following tips:

  • If AES Indiana calls a customer, our representatives will always have specific and accurate information related to your billing and account.
  • AES Indiana does not make threatening calls of any manner, including the threat to disconnect your electric service if you don’t pay immediately.
  • AES Indiana does not require a specific payment method or type to be made immediately. The Company offers a variety of payment options so customers can select the one that best suits them.
  • AES Indiana also reminds customers not to provide personal information or comply with requests for payments unless they are confident with whom they are speaking to.

If an AES customer is about to be disconnected for non-payment, they will receive a disconnect notice bill issued 30 days following their bill issue date.

An Immediate Action disconnect notice bill is issued on day 60. On day 61, service is subject to immediate disconnection, said Young in an email to WRTV.

“Customers are asked to call AES Indiana at 317-261-8222 if they receive a call and are unsure that the caller is truly an AES Indiana employee and to verify any questions related to AES Indiana bill payment and collection,” said Young.

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