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Ameren warns small businesses of utility scams

Ameren Illinois workers went to local businesses Wednesday afternoon to alert small businesses of utility scams. (WCCU)

Ameren Illinois workers hit the streets of downtown Champaign Wednesday afternoon to alert small businesses about utility scams.

Community coordinator for Ameren, Kodi Smith, said scam artists impersonate their employees to take advantage of customers.

Smith said utility scammers target the elderly and small businesses. Scam artists can get more money out of a small business than they can from Ameren's residential customers.

“There are scammers out there on the phone that will call you and represent themselves as Ameren Illinois saying that they owe money,” Smith said. “And we want them to know that's not us.”

Ameren workers talked to small business owners and employees about the warning signs of utility scams.

“Another red flag is they'll tell the customers that the lineman is on their way,” Smith said. “[Saying] they're going to be out there in 45 minutes to disconnect the power if they don't make the payment right now.”

Some local spots have experienced this first hand.

“We have received several phone calls over the course of the last nine or so months that I can recall,” KoFusion head chef, Nigel Morgan, said. “Indicating that they would turn off our power if we did not pay our bill.”

Luckily, KoFusion caught on to the scam with no money lost.

But another business just down the block, this was the first they’ve heard of utility scammers targeting shops and restaurants.

"I just didn't know it was happening at small businesses,” customer service manager at Cream & Flutter, Angela Chesser, said. “It was really a shock when I got the phone call yesterday that they were going to come out and give us information."

Chesser said she’s not easily fooled.

"I'm much more cautious than others,” Chesser said. “Anytime someone calls for money, I think hmm hold on I don’t know about that.”

Smith said when it comes down to it, small business owners want to be prepared, because a successful scam, means money lost.

“We have had cases in Champaign County where we have had our customers scammed out of their money,” Smith said. “Actually in the past four years across Ameren Illinois, we've had $75,000 leave our customers' pockets because of the scams.”

If the phone rings and you suspect it's a scam, hang up and call Ameren Illinois at 1-800-755-5000.

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