Scammers work very hard to knock their victims off an even keel. They know their chances of cheating someone rise dramatically if they can excite or upset someone to the point where they stop thinking straight, or thinking critically, to use a more academic term. And something almost guaranteed to upset us, or induce near-panic, would be an unexpected call telling us our utility plans to disconnect us in 30 minutes.
That was the situation confronted by a 60-year-old Clinton woman last week, leading to her quick loss of $200. Lynn, as I will call her, wanted her story shared so as to prevent anyone else from making the same mistakes she did. Lynn experienced a very busy spring. She worked full time, and handled some stressful (but happy) family commitments. Out of the blue, Lynn took a call from a woman saying she called on behalf of Alliant Energy, and demanded immediate payment of Lynn’s delinquent utility bill. The caller said a disconnect crew was headed to Lynn’s as they spoke. It’s fair to say the call threw Lynn into a panic. Because of all that time-consuming family business, at the moment Lynn got the call, she genuinely didn’t recall if she made her payment. The panic and confusion scrambled Lynn’s critical thinking, just as the caller intended, making her easy prey for the criminal.
The caller demanded an immediate payment, but refused the offer of a credit card or debit card. Instead, the caller directed Lynn to a convenience store in Clinton with a Bitcoin kiosk. Lynn didn’t know much about Bitcoin, but followed instructions sent by the caller, and deposited $200 to the kiosk. As soon as she drove away, Lynn realized she made a mistake, but too late. As you can already guess, Alliant later confirmed with Lynn that her account was all paid up, not delinquent. Alliant never made the collection call; it came from an imposter.
The utility disconnect scam is nothing new. But Lynn’s experience featured a couple of new wrinkles. First, this fraud most commonly targets a business. Taverns and restaurants are favorites. The targeting of a household is unusual. Second, this scammer demanded payment in Bitcoin. Scammers seem increasingly interested in directing payments to such cryptocurrencies. We will hear of this more.
What specific lessons can Lynn’s experience teach us? Here are two:
• Avoid panic and the impulse to act immediately. Slow down and think. Ask for help from someone you trust.
• Avoid any payment or money transfers you don’t understand. No legitimate business or government agency demands payment in Bitcoin. None.
CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME
Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at email@example.com
Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.