Columbia Water and Light warns Residents about a Scam

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COLUMBIA -Missouri Attorney General Chris Coster issued a warning to Missourians Wednesday about a phone utility scam.

In Mid-Missouri, the scammers have been calling residents claiming they are Columbia Water and Light employees and demanding that residents pay their utility bills over the phone. Residents have been asked to hand over their credit card and bank account information right away.

Connie Kacprowicz is the Utility Services Specialist for the Columbia Water and Light Department and she says as soon as residents are asked that information, they should realize that it's a scam.

"The bottom line that everyone should take away is that no city of Columbia employee is allowed to take payments over the phone," Kacprowicz said.

Both Kacprowicz and Lynn Cannon, the Assistant Director of Finance for the City of Columbia, have said the city doesn't shut down a residential or commercial building without prior notices.

"We do have a robo call that will notify a individual who may be subjected to disconnect that you know they need to come in and make a payment," Cannon said.

Residents have 20 days after they get their bill in the mail to pay to the City of Columbia. Cannon added that the city also gives a 3-day grace period for Columbia residents.

This scam, similar to one residents have called in about last May, is targeting commercial businesses in Columbia.

"I think the cause of concern is, especially if you own a business, which it seems like this one had targeted mainly businesses, certainly you don't want your business to be shut down during the holiday season," Kacprowicz said. "People were very afraid of losing their electricity in the middle of a work day."

Cannon said the office received the most amount of calls on Tuesday including 20 different commercial customers calling about this problem. Some customers have said they've received calls from people named Jason Watson and Tony from a 1-800 number.

Both city officials say residents should know exactly who is calling them when they ask for their credit card or bank information to pay a bill over the phone.

The Columbia Police Department also gave several tips to avoid these phone scams:

- Make a phone call to verify the information.

- Be skeptical - Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.

- Never send cash, money orders or give our personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates,bank account numbers, dates of birth or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown person.

- If you verify the call and a recording picks up not staing the name of the company, it could be a scam.

Also, if you believe a scammer has called you asking for your personal information, you should notify the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.