COLUMBIA, Mo. - Ameren is warning customers about potential scams in the area tied to their monthly utility bills.
Scammers will call customers to tell them that they are behind in paying their bills and demand money in the next hour or the utilities will be shut off.
"We see this same kind of thing with companies all the time," said Sean Spence with the Better Business Bureau. "We're going cut off your water, we're going to cut off your heat, we're going cut off your phone, if you don't pay right now on the phone."
Ameren spokeswoman Brianne Vaught said this isn't a new scam, but it has gained traction within the last month in Missouri and some parts of Illinois.
"We usually receive about 12 to 25 calls a week from our customers reporting scams," she said. "Last month we had a really large uptick throughout the service territory. We had about 100 calls that last week of October."
She said Ameren is teaming up with several other energy companies to raise awareness about the long-running scam that, according to a news release, has cost utility customers millions of dollars.
Vaught said utility companies are working to make the third Wednesday every November a "Utility Scam Awareness Day." She said officials have even submitted a resolution to the federal House of Representatives.
"We would probably help our customers avoid being a victim by sending out consistent clear messages and content that exposes those tricks that the scammers use frequently to get our customers," she said.
According to a news release, about 1,500 Ameren customers reported suspicious activity last year.
Vaught said the scammers will pretend to be an Ameren representative and threaten immediate disconnection of a service unless the customer immediately pays with a prepaid debit card that can't be traced.
Vaught said Ameren officials will never call and force someone to pay to avoid disconnection.
"We make payment arrangements with you, we try everything we can to work with you beforehand," she said. "We don't demand immediate payment within the hour."
Anyone who receives such a call is asked to call 800-552-7583 immediately to make sure their account is safe.