The lunchtime rush was like any other weekday for Joe Slyman, owner of Adams Street Café in downtown Peoria. Joe and his staff kept the customer line moving as lawyers, engineers and workers from nearby downtown companies streamed into the popular family-style deli for freshly made sandwiches, soups and salads.
Adams Street Café has been a fixture in the community for 26 years. A hands-on owner/operator, Joe shuffles between the front counter and the kitchen, manages food preparation, and fulfills orders for his growing catering business. He also pays all of the bills.
On this day, Joe's busy routine was interrupted by a phone call. On the other end of the line was a person claiming to represent his energy provider, Ameren Illinois. And the news was not good. According to the caller, Joe was late in paying his energy bill and a representative from the utility was en route to shut off his power.
"It caught me by surprise and I was panicked at first," J oe explains. "We were literally right in the middle of our busiest time of the day. All I could think about was my oven, refrigerator and grill being turned off and the place going dark at the worst possible time."
Joe immediately protested, indicating that he was certain he had paid his bill on time. "However, it had me wondering whether or not my payment had been sent. The guy on the other end was very convincing. He sounded legitimate."
Worried about disrupting his business, Joe nearly bit on the offer he received from the caller. If Joe would provide his credit card number and make an immediate payment, the caller said, he would be spared a costly and embarrassing service disconnection. This is when Joe began to have his doubts.
"I have been a customer of Ameren Illinois for years,” he says. “They had never called me and asked me for payment, even on occasions when we may have been a few days late.” He asked the caller for more information and then asked to speak to a supervisor. The caller quickly hung up.
Joe was fortunate because he was vigilant in protecting his personal information. Many other business owners are not as lucky. While anyone is susceptible to a utility scam, small family businesses are being increasingly targeted.
Ameren Illinois is committed to helping businesses and residential customers avoid becoming victims of utility scams. If you are contacted by someone impersonating an Ameren Illinois representative, hang up or close the door and call (800) 755-5000. More information on the warning signs of a scam and actions you can take are available at AmerenIllinois.com. iBi