Utility Scam Targeting Businesses And Residents In Central Ohio

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It's a call that would worry anyone: your utility company saying your electricity is minutes away from being cut off, unless you pay up.

That is the message going out to homes and businesses across Ohio But tonight so is a warning, because this is a scam.

Tony Johnson has worked in the service industry for 20 years, doing everything from washing dishes to managing the bar at Level Dining Lounge in the Short North.

"There's always something new and fun and exciting,” Johnson said.

Monday night brought a new experience that was anything but fun:  a phone call in the middle of the dinner rush from a man who said he was with American Electric Power.

"He said he had someone on their way in the next half an hour and they were going to shut off our power.”

The man claimed the restaurant was behind on its payments and needed to pay up immediately, or risk a dinner hour gone dark.

"A brief moment of panic, like ‘oh my God- is this happening?’" recalled Johnson.

A quick call to his boss set things straight before any money changed hands.

"He was like, ‘that's funny, we don't have AEP. We use Columbus Electric. So this is obviously some sort of scam.’"

But Level is far from alone in being targeted.

Jimmy V's in Grandview was also recently hit by this same scam. And it's not limited to central Ohio. Police in the Richland County community of Ontario this week sent out a warning to businesses there about it, and AEP says it has heard of the same scam from sister utilities in other states.

Last week AEP sent out an email alert to customers, telling them someone was using the utility's name illegally.

Though the scam isn't new, AEP says there has been a surge of these calls in recent weeks, with reports doubling from June to July to August.

The experience left Tony with mixed feelings- relief that his boss didn't get taken…

"Angry and sad that I know people probably have fallen for it, which keeps them going," he said.

Tony and his staff pride themselves on good service.
But they draw the line at serving up their hard-earned dollars to a con artist.

AEP says it will never call demanding immediate payment.

Customers with delinquent accounts are notified on their bill, and those who don't respond will get a recorded phone message.

If you have any doubts about who you're talking to, hang up, and call your utility company directly.