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Scam Artists Target Austin Energy Customers

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 04:08 PM CDT

Central Texans scammed out of thousands of dollars. We first reported about thieves telling Bluebonnet Electric customers they were past due on their utility bills and would be disconnected if they didn't pay up. On Tuesday, KEYE TV was first to uncover thieves are also targeting utility customers in Austin.

The President of Fresh Plus, an Austin grocery chain, was close to becoming the latest victim. Paul Beurskens said the callers are smooth, had answers for every question and he almost handed over $1,000.

When you're in charge of $50,000 worth of perishable products, Beurskens said you listen when someone is talking about your electricity.

"They were going to shut off our power because of non-payment," Beurskens explained about the caller who claimed he was from the City of Austin. "The guy was bold; he had a call back number and said this will be recorded. He just sounded real professional."

"I think all scams rely on some type of pressure," added APD Detective Alan Goodwin. "That's the element of this scam."

After putting on the pressure, the thief convinced Beurskens the city needed his cash now or his power would be shut off.

"It really kind of scared me," he said.

So, Beurskens followed the caller's instructions and went to Walgreens to buy a cash card. "I would have made a payment," he admitted.

But when Beurskens told the Walgreens employee why he was there, they stopped and saved him. The employee said the store never works directly with the City of Austin. APD told KEYE TV other people and businesses weren't as lucky.

"They followed the person's instructions, went to CVS, gave the suspect the information, the suspect was able to take the money off the cash cards and was gone," Detective Allen said about one of his cases.

"I would just like to see the guy get what he deserves," Beurskens said.

Police told us they're not sure if this is a copycat crime or the same thieves targeting Bluebonnet Electric customers as well. Officers have not made an arrest yet.

These thieves are targeting businesses and customers. If you receive a call similar to Beurskens, don't react immediately, call your utility directly and report the suspicious call to 3-1-1.

Police also said to get as much information about the caller as you can. At the least, write down the number they're calling from and report it to police.

By Katherine Stolp

Scam Artists Target Austin Energy Customers

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