3OYS: Valley businesses targeted with utility scam

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Valley businesses are being targeted with a utility scam. It's one that went away for awhile. But it's back and it's rampant. Unfortunately, small business owners are getting taken.

C & G Jewelers is a small family run business just the kind scammers love to target. No one knows that better than Diane Simonian, who was helping to run her parents' jewelry store recently and got a phone call. "A gentleman called stated our A-P-S  was going to be turned off due to non-payment," she remembers.

Diane knew the jewelry store couldn't stay open without power,  but the APS representative said if she could get him $500 in the next 30 minutes the store's electricity wouldn't be turned off.  "He said we had to hurry and go down to CVS or Walgreens and buy a pre-paid card," she says.

Diane says her family panicked at first but quickly remembered their APS bill was not late because their payment is automatically deducted from their bank account. It’s a good thing the family didn't buy the pre-paid card, because once they get the card, put money on it, and give the caller the code found on the back, the crooks make off with all the money.

A similar phone call was recorded by another Valley business who got the same demand. Except this time, the scammer wanted $987 on two of those pre-paid cards. And if the business doesn't pay up, the caller said:  "We were calling to advise you that technicians are in your area. Disconnection can take process in the next 30 minutes unless the payment is made."

Alan Bunnell is with APS, and says the utility company is well aware of the phone scam, and has issued an alert to customers. "We will never ever call a customer directly or show up face to face saying that they owe us money. So if anybody ever does that, that is the biggest warning sign that is not legitimate."

As for the family-run jewelry store, they never paid a penny. And they hope other small business owners and managers won't fall for bait.