Scammers armed with an unsettling amount of detailed information are targeting utility customers nationwide, a scam that is in full swing here in Illinois.
The components of the con rarely vary -- a phone call, a threat to disconnect power, and a mandate to load cash onto a GreenPak Money Card at a nearby store.
"He knew all my info. That's what made it believable," Ta-Ta Wallace says of the man who called her salon in Maywood last week, threatening to disconnect power that day if she didn't pay up.
Wallace says the caller was equipped with her business ComEd account number and the current amount due -- the exact amount she had just paid the day before at an authorized store. She had proof of payment, a canceled check and a receipt, but the caller insisted unless she paid again, ComEd would shut her electricity off.
"The light would be off in the next 45 minutes and I had a house full of clients getting service. That wasn't fair to them," Wallace says.
She then followed the instructions that she now knows were full of red flags. She drove to a nearby Walgreen's with cash, loaded it onto a GreenPak Money Card and gave the card's PIN to the guy on the phone.
"We will never call to collect on a bill,and we don't accept prepaid credit cards," ComEd's Val Jensen told NBC 5 Investigates.
Several other red flags were involved the scheme -- the demand for immediate cash, and the call and threat to disconnect on a Saturday, a day the utility does not send out trucks.
"This is not a fluke- it's going on all over the country, sadly. We have seen an uptick in the last couple weeks," Jensen said.
ComEd is directing customers to its website for more information, and is asking victims to report their experiences to the Illinois Attorney General's office.
For its part, the GreenDot Corporation says it will now change the MoneyPak product and phase out the PIN feature, which critics said made it ripe for abuse by scammers.
A spokesperson for the company told NBC 5 Investigates there are only three uses for a MoneyPak:
- Reload prepaid debit cards with cash
- Add cash to PayPal accounts
- Make cash payments to partner businesses on the approved list
The spokesperson suggests the following tips for using MoneyPak:
- Protect your MoneyPak number just as you would cash
- Only use a MoneyPak with businesses on the approved list, found at www.moneypak.com
- Never give the MoneyPak number to a private individual
- If anyone asks for your MoneyPak number, it's a scam.
"Green Dot is committed to educating consumers about how to avoid becoming victims of financial fraud scams and has partnered with the Consumer Federation of America to help enhance these efforts. Consumers should protect their MoneyPak numbers just as they would cash, and Green Dot makes vigorous efforts to remind consumers on the MoneyPak packaging and website never to give their information to a private individual, to someone claiming you have won a prize or lottery, or to pay for items purchased from classified ads. Consumers are encouraged to immediately report fraudulent activity to Green Dot by calling 1-800-GREENDOT (800-473-3636) so we can attempt to recover any funds that have not already been removed by a scammer and continue working with law enforcement to identify the origin of these activities and end these abuses." -Green Dot Corp.