Scammers targeting Columbia residents, police warn

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | 7:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Scammers claiming to be from area utilities have been targeting Columbia residents in recent days.

Residents have been contacted from callers claiming to be from Columbia Water and Light, the IRS, and Ameren Missouri, according to Columbia Police Department news releases. The callers have told customers that their accounts were delinquent and that they needed to get Visa cards from a local pharmacy.

In one instance, a caller claimed to be an IRS chief investigator and said that the resident had outstanding warrants for illegally sending money overseas. The alleged IRS representative threatened the resident with jail time of three to five years or a fine of $50,000 if the resident did not go to a bank immediately and send cash.

Other scams involved Ameren Missouri customers' being told their accounts were delinquent and subject to disconnection. An Ameren Missouri representative said the utility never delivers disconnect notices by phone or at customers' doors, according to the Police Department release.

The Police Department said Columbia residents can do the following to protect themselves from potential scams:

  • Never send cash or money orders to unfamiliar people or organizations.
  • Don't give out personal information, such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or Social Security numbers, to unfamiliar people or organizations.
  • Be skeptical before sending money.
  • Be skeptical and take your time before making a decision about sending money because legitimate companies are patient while customers are making decisions.
  • Call back the number that the solicitor used to to verify the information. If a recording plays that does not say the company's name, it is a scam.
  • Ask for identification when someone visits your home and claims to be from a utility company; don't let that person into your home.

Anyone who wants to report possible fraud to the Columbia police can call 874-7652.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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