DETROIT – DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Michigan State Police and the Better Business Bureau are working together to make sure business owners are aware of scam artists who are posing as utility company workers.
Ralph Dallo, owner of Leonard's Pizza, was a victim of the scam and shared his story with Local 4 earlier this year.
Here's how the scam work: Someone pretending to be with the business' utility company calls to say the account is past due and if a payment isn't made immediately, service will be shut off. Payment is demanded through a wire transfer, debit card or some other method that cannot be traced.
Dallo wired the scammers more than $1,700 after they called on a Friday afternoon. Dallo said he took such fast action because he couldn't afford to have his power shutoff before a busy summer weekend. Still, it's a decision he regrets.
"Do not pay any money in cash," Dallo said.
How to protect yourself
Consumers should be wary of anyone who calls unexpectedly demanding payment in cash or some other method.
If someone is calling you with a threat, make it your standing policy that you need 24 hours to verify any claims they're making. And, when you start to verify the claim, use a phone number you know to be reliable. You can find the number on the company's website or your billing statement. Never call any numbers the person calling you may offer. They work in groups to make you think you're taking to a supervisor.
Because scam artists are so hard to catch, we all need to be on guard and ready to outsmart the bad guys. Working with the Better Business Bureau of Southfield, Help Me Hank has come up with this expanded strategy to beat the scammers.
It's really important that you get caller ID and train yourself to ignore any call if you don't recognize the number. Just don't answer! If it's someone you know, they will leave a message and you can call them right back. Every time you pick up a call from a scam artist, you are telling that scammer you are a live target. The same goes for strange emails. Delete them! And, never click on links in emails from someone you're not 100 percent is a friend or legitimate business.
If you answer a call and someone is demanding money or personal information, resist their offers or their threats. It should become obvious that something's not right, depending on which buttons their trying to push.
"If they're really just trying to prey on my emotions or my fear, that's when you should just immediately hang up!" advises Melanie Duquesnel, CEO for the local Better Business Bureau in Southfield.
She says you never want to share personal information or make a payment, during that first point of contact, especially when that call comes out of the blue. You can listen (without sharing any of your information) but always remember to hang up and do more research!
You can also come up with a "refusal script" in your head that you can use on any scammer or aggressive sales person to reject their offers. "You can come off politely, but at the same time firmly," said Duquesnel.
If the caller says something that catches your attention, makes you nervous, or seems worth checking out, do further research to see if what they're saying is true. Remember, never call the numbers they give you for that extra research. Find a legitimate number to call. If you keep calling them back, you could be hearing more lies. Another good idea, google some of the key facts of the story you've been told. There is a lot of information online about scams that are making the rounds. Victims often post their stories, including the names of the scammers, the phone numbers they've used, and other details that can help you spot a scam. Be sure to go sources beyond that first call before you spend any money.
Finally, if somebody tries to scam you, tell other people so they can be on the lookout. Share you story with friends, family, and even social media so others know what kind of scams are currently making the rounds and how to spot them.
If you lose money, do not be embarrassed to tell someone. They might be able to help you stop further losses, and again, they will be on the lookout for these fast-talking criminals. It's also important to notify local police when appropriate, the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, or whatever agency might be able to offer you assistance.
"You must inform. You must share and in doing so you save somebody else," Duquesnel said.