Street Talk: A lights-out scam

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The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan and Consumers Energy are warning businesses to be cautious of a growing utility scam.

In the scam, a person calls a business claiming to be from Consumers Energy. This caller says the business has an overdue bill, and the utilities will be shut off if payment isn’t made immediately. Often the caller asks for payment via wire transfer or prepaid card.

Consumers Energy has seen an uptick in scam calls during the last two months, with customers paying more money to scammers in 2019 – over $52,000 – than they did in 2018. Through mid-December, statistics show most of the scammed customers, 12, are in Kent County but followed closely by Allegan County (seven) and Kalamazoo County (five).

Consumers Energy has received information on 76 incidents where customers paid scammers in 2019. The Better Business Bureau also has received a number of reports regarding this scam.

“Unfortunately, these scammers are very convincing and can quickly coerce customers into paying money,” said Christopher Bush, director of corporate security, Consumers Energy. “If you receive a scam call or are unsure if the call is legitimate, hang up and call Consumers Energy at (800) 477-5050 and contact your local law enforcement agency.”

Bush said Consumers Energy will never threaten to shut off power immediately if payment is not made. The company’s collection process involves a series of letters that clearly state a disconnection date if payment is not made. The company also will not require payment in pre-paid credit cards or debit cards, a tactic often used by scammers.

“It is important for businesses to know what to watch for and how to avoid falling victim to scams such as this,” said Phil Catlett, president of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “Scams like this not only cost businesses money but they erode trust. This makes it harder to build the ethical marketplace we all desire.”

An employee at a Grandville auto repair shop recently reported one of these calls to the BBB Scamtracker. Wendy (last name withheld) said the caller claimed to be with Consumers Energy and claimed that employees were on the way to the address to shut off the power. The caller claimed the only way to prevent this was to pay the outstanding balance of $1,382.42 immediately.

“I knew we didn’t have a balance and knew this was a scam,” Wendy said.

The threat caused concern with others at the business, however, who were worried the power would be cut if payment wasn’t made. In the end, Wendy refused to pay, and no money was lost.

More information is available about the scam at ConsumersEnergy.com/scams and at bbb.org.

Kids first

The Children’s Foundation has said it’s awarding 93 new grants that total $4 million, which now includes a focus on West Michigan as well as its base on the east side of the state.

The grants fund projects in community benefit, research and educational initiatives. The foundation’s current priority is to better youth behavioral health.

Easterseals Michigan has received a 2020 grant of $30,000 to cover start‐up costs for a program to provide diagnostic services for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Foundation grants from 2019 are at work across West Michigan.

At Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a grant supports a study of acute and long-term clinical utility of rapid whole genome sequencing — which can detect genetic disorders — across larger regions, ethnic and racial groups, and larger numbers of pediatric patients.

At the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, a grant funded Think aHEAD, which aims to increase usages of protective head gear among children and instill lifelong helmet use.

Western Michigan University’s Stryker School of Medicine was awarded resources to implement an Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Center.

The foundation has recently established partnerships with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Grand Rapids Drive and ShowSpan Inc., in addition to becoming an active member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, to raise awareness of the organization’s mission to serve children in all parts of the state and its focus to bettering behavioral health.

“With each grant cycle, we are able to provide more resources and impact a greater number of diverse organizations that have constructive ways to better the lives of children in West Michigan,” said Lawrence Burns, president and CEO, The Children’s Foundation. “We are so grateful to be embraced by the West Michigan community and to have the ability to support the growing number of youth in need.”

The nonprofit is planning to move into a new office space in downtown Grand Rapids that represents its recently expanded dedication to the West Michigan area.

Road trips

Ride Local is a new ride-share service that recently announced the launch of its Grand Rapids market. The announcement was made with prospective independent drivers invited to hear about the new company during an Oct. 1 meeting. Ride Local is providing ride share services now and is offering a free ride to all new riders.

Grand Rapids will be the first market to introduce the new ride-share service that will be launched in six Michigan cities within the first year.

Founders Angelo Darin, CEO, and Dawn Keller, COO, said Ride Local will revolutionize the ride share industry by bringing local businesses, drivers and riders together.

“Grand Rapids is an excellent market to launch our ride-share service where there is such an untapped market with so much room to expand,” Darin said. “A 2018 study showed that 35% of Americans now use ride-sharing — up 240% in three years. The ride-share market is expecting a 10 times increase in the next decade, especially in areas like Michigan where services are underutilized. Currently, 67% of the Grand Rapids market has never used a ride share. Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago drivers have seen the largest growth in rider services and increases in driver wages.”

Ride Local and its sister company, Explore Grand Rapids, will partner with the riders, drivers and local businesses to keep money in the local community.

Ride Local’s PickMe App interface features improvements to safety and security like an SOS button that automatically calls the local police department and video monitoring with live streaming in vehicles so riders and drivers can feel more secure.

Users can request three types of vehicles:

  • GO-Classic ride now vehicles that can be requested immediately.
  • PRO-Ride to Work vehicles are pre-scheduled 30 minutes in advance with reduced fare rates for residents going to work.
  • XL-Luxury vehicles are pre-scheduled six hours in advance for events or special occasions.

Programs include nonemergency medical transport, senior citizens, kids to and from school or activities, sporting event travel, points for cold cash and free local community rides to medical appointments for low-income elderly.

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