Sophisticated scammers targeted nearly 150 IPL customers this week

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — If you think you’ll never fall for a scam, two small business owners say you should think again.

The owners were among at least 142 Indianapolis Power and Light customers contacted by scammers this week. The utility company’s spokesperson told FOX59 that, by comparison, only 13 customers reported scams last week.

The spike came earlier this week, and JP Lahr & Sons Roofing Service owner James Lahr found himself in the middle of the scam.

“(We were) within 10 minutes of making a financial mistake,” Lahr said.

It began when a man called Lahr’s office and spoke to his office manager Mary Storm. The man told her he worked with IPL and had an order to shut off the company’s power. He said he would be there within an hour, unless the company paid their outstanding bill.

“I said, ‘We have paid these bills. We have been in business since 1934 and never had a problem,'” Storm said.

After Storm became suspicious, the scammers convinced her to call Lahr, who was on a job site.

“We’re in panic mode because we don’t want to be turned off, and you’re not really thinking immediately about what does or doesn’t add up,” Lahr said.

According to Lahr, the scammers gave a 317 number and it rang to an automated phone system with extensions. After he spoke with one woman, she transferred him to another woman who was supposedly a “payment specialist.”

“It sounded very legitimate,” Lahr said. “The phone calls were very professional, the way they had the phone tree set up when you called their number.”

The biggest red flag came when the scammers told Lahr he could not pay by credit card or check. They told him he could pay cash but they were located in Martinsville, so ultimately they convinced him to buy three $500 Green Dot debit cards.

Storm bought those cards, but by the time she returned to the office, Lahr had called IPL’s customer service line directly and discovered he was being scammed.

“It’s extremely frustrating that these people are out there and the evil that they can come up with to do things, it boggles my mind,” Storm said.

FOX59 spoke to another small business owner who was contacted while he was at a conference out of town. He said that the scammers seemed real and because he was in a rush to return to the conference, he fell for the scam and ended up losing $1,500.

Both Lahr and the other business owner said one of the women told them her name was Samantha Reid. Each described the scammers specifically requesting a Mastercard Green Dot card, saying they would not except a Visa gift card.

Central Indiana Better Business Bureau CEO Tim Maniscalo told FOX59 this scam has common red flags, especially the method of payment by Green Dot card.

“Green Dot card (and) wiring money are almost impossible to trace. It’s almost impossible to get your money back, so they want that type of payment,” Maniscalo said.

Maniscalo said he was not surprised to hear of the scam’s sophistication, since the BBB has received an increased number of reports of scams in recent years.

“Scams in general, and this one in particular, are getting much more well organized, well funded. It’s almost like organized crime now, they’re very sophisticated operations,” Maniscalo said.

Lahr and Storm found out the hard way that even though they didn’t give the scammers the Green Dot card numbers, once they bought the cards it was not easy to return them and get their cash back. The cards are non-refundable and have many fees.

They said that despite their headache, they are worried others fell for the scam and lost money, which is why they contacted FOX59 to get the word out about the scam.

“They don’t care how big or small you are, if you can come up with $1,500, they’re willing to take it from anyone,” Lahr said.

If you get a scam call like this one, report it to IPL, police, and the Indiana Attorney General.