3OYS: Utility impostors target business owners

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz -- If you're a business owner, the last thing you want to see is your electric service being shut off without warning. 

But 3 On Your Side found out that that's exactly what some scam artists are trying to get some business owners to believe. And their calls are scaring folks into thinking they have to pay for something they don't even owe.

That's what happened at the Scottsdale eatery, Chop and Wok. "We cook by wok most of the time. We have fryers here we do a lot of gas cooking," says owner Stacy Ledoux. With all the lights, TVs and cooking appliances, utility bills can add up quickly. "About 40% of our utility bill is gas," Stacy says.

Calls for takeout are constant. But crooks are calling in too, posing as a utility company and telling Stacy he missed a payment."A utility bill that's in default and I know that they're not in default," he says.

Because all the bills go through him, Stacy knew he wasn't behind.  It's a ruse, he says. Impostors have tried to target him several times, saying he's danger of a utility being shut off if he doesn't send money right away.

"I asked them what utility they were talking about and they couldn't say; they mumbled a few utilities I haven't heard of and at the very end of it I heard SRP."

For the record, SRP and APS tell 3 On Your Side they do not call customers demanding payment.  Utility companies, along with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, have alerts about the scam. Stacy adds; "It happens more often than people know."

Last year APS fielded more than 450 complaints of fraudulent calls during which customers were asked to send money through a pre-paid debit card like Green Dot MoneyPak.  As of mid-March 2014, APS has fielded an additional 200 complaints.    
To help make the public aware of the utility impostors, SRP has posted a recording of the actual scam in action. There’s even a link on YouTube.

The call is similar to the one Stacy got. "The number is from Florida but who knows where they're calling from. I think it's a group of people because there are different people that call me," he says.

Stacy hopes other business owners stay on their toes about getting a call from utility impostors.

"If they've got a large team going through these phones books, yeah, I could see that that's lucrative," he says.