Woman uses social media to scam people seeking utility assistance

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - People who most need utility assistance come face to face with a woman who intentionally leaves them in the dark.  It`s a scam that frustrates the trusting victims.

We`ve confirmed that Ameren Missouri has taken complaints about the scam. But the reality is the consumer is still responsible for payment on the account.

Charlotte Dooley says a former classmate used social media to announce that energy assistance was available at a public library.  "We met her at the library on Natural Bridge and Newstead. We all got receipt numbers and there was a line of people going in and out. Everybody was going in to get utility assistance.   And of course we never thought it was a scam."

Angela Prete says she owed $500 on her electric bill.  She and others were told they'd have to make a partial payment in order to qualify for assistance.  "She was telling us if you pay the $250 we`ll pay your whole bill off.  If your bill is $495, you pay $250.  If it`s $300 you pay $150 and it will wipe out your whole bill."

It’s not unusual for utility companies to work with recognized agencies to assist low income customers with gas, electric or water bills. But it is unusual that consumers are asked to pay anything.  It's worth noting, credible agencies will first, confirm a customer`s need. Then the agency pledges to make a nominal payment on the consumer`s account.  It never wipes out the total debt, but it helps prevent disconnections.

Both Charlotte and Angela say they watched as the woman made a call to the electric company.  She gave them a debit card number for the partial payment.   Angela explains.  "She had the card number wrote on a piece of paper.  A card never was presented.  She`s calling Ameren and using the card to pay off people`s bills."

But a week later they receive a letter from Ameren saying the payment was declined due to insufficient funds according to Charlotte.  "We`re all receiving letters or phone calls from Ameren UE and Laclede gas saying a check bounced on our account.  So it was all a scam. And when I went back on Facebook, the page that existed, no longer existed. "

If you need help with utility bills you'll find a list of credible social service agencies on Ameren's website.  Once on the home page, look for the customer assistance tab.  Once you've clicked that, scroll down to the payment assistance tab.  Click that and look for the agency finder tab.   Then you'll insert your zip code and the agencies closest to you will pop up.

Unfortunately not enough people know how to check this out.  Angela agrees.  "Very frustrating because not only me that she got, she also got the elderly people.  They don't have jobs.  So how they going to come up with the funds to pay their utility bills"

You'll save yourself a lot of grief if you do your homework.  Charlotte and Angela say the woman they gave money to has moved to Texas.  And they can't reach her using the only number they had for her.  Call us if you have a consumer issue.  The Call for Action Contact 2 line is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am until 1 pm.   The toll free number is 800-782-2222.

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