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Small businesses owners: be aware of energy scams

November 19, 2015

Small business owners need to be alert to energy payment scams that are emerging across the state this holiday season. Energy scam attempts so far this year have led to $81,000 in losses.

SBAM President and CEO Rob Fowler was a featured presenter at a press conference Nov. 18 at Michigan State Police headquarters in downtown Lansing. “Small businesses help form the backbone of our state’s economy, but many of them can be hurt greatly if they are scammed out of even a few hundred dollars,” he said. “We are committed to helping our members be aware of scams, and encourage them to report if they believe they have been targets of fraud.”

Typically, a caller will contact a small business, such as a store or a restaurant; pretend to be from Consumers Energy; and demand payment within an hour or two using a prepaid credit or debit card. The scam has been reported in 57 counties. “We are aware of over 1,000 attempts by criminals to con small business owners into making payments they believe are intended for Consumers Energy,” said Annette Gardiner, Consumers Energy’s vice president for shared services. “We want to provide the public with information to recognize and report these criminal attempts, and to make sure they don’t become a victim.”

Telephone scammers may do the following:

  • Demand payment within a short time frame.
  • Threaten service will be shut off if payment is not made.
  • Insist on a specific form of payment, such as a pre-paid credit card commonly purchased at a convenience store.
  • May seek personal or account information.
  • May have an account number or what sounds like the proper bill amount
  • May “spoof” a caller’s phone, making it appear as if the call comes from Consumers Energy.
  • May provide an 800 or 888 number to call that is not legitimate.

“Law enforcement agencies continue to work with victims to bring perpetrators to justice, but the best defense against this crime is public awareness,” said Capt. Christopher Stolicker, commander of the Michigan State Police Special Investigation Division. “Never give personal information or money over the phone to anyone you do not know.”

Consumers Energy reminded the public that it does not demand payment in less than 24 hours, nor does it force customers to use a single payment method, such as a prepaid credit card. The energy provider encouraged customers with concerns to call 800-477-5050. Company representatives can confirm if they’re being contacted legitimately.

“Sadly, many people find themselves the targets of attempts to con them out of their money, often by pretending to represent trusted companies such as Consumers Energy,” said Phil Catlett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan. “People should know that resources are available, such as a scam tracker that we offer online, to help them make safe decisions, and to put these criminals out of business.”

Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy, providing natural gas and electricity to 6.6 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

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