It's a race to stay ahead of aggressive scam artists who continue to change up the way they victimize thousands of people every year.
Two Fry's employees had their training put to the test and passed with flying colors. Now they're getting a very public shout out from the utility company SRP.
Lori who works in customer service, along with Stuart, the front end manager at the Fry's grocery store on Alma School Road in Chandler were both honored with a thank you letter and gifts from SRP for preventing an SRP customer from being further victimized by thieves posing as SRP employees on the phone.
Both employees declined to give their last names but said they were constantly training to spot scams, and this one had many red flags. It all went down on Labor Day weekend when a 65-year old customer who requested not to be identified stopped by the store to buy a Money Pak card for several hundred dollars.
The near-victim, who is a small business owner, said he received a phone call from a person whom he believed was with SRP, warning him they would shut off his power in two hours if he did not pay up.
"I was stunned. I go how could this happen? I had just bought the business, so I thought well maybe the past owner hadn't paid the bill and this is kind of catching up," said the man.
He decided to pay it off and deal with customer service after the Labor Day holiday and was instructed to go purchase a Money Pak card to make the immediate payment.
After he purchased the card, he was told to call a toll-free 844 number to get ahold of an SRP representative. The man said he called the number and heard the same automated recording you would hear if you called the legitimate number for SRP, which is a local 602 number. It was the voice of "Rosie" the SRP virtual assistant.
The person who came on the phone then advised him they had made a mistake on the amount he owed and asked him to purchase a second Money Pak card for a greater amount.
The second trip to Fry's is what saved the day in this case.
Lori and Stuart were both at the customer service desk and saw the man trying to purchase the Money Pak card.
"The gentleman, he seemed kind of nervous, and kind of upset. He was buying a large amount," said Lori.
"The red flag was the sum of money that was needed, like urgently, now," added Stuart.
Both employees immediately felt uneasy about making the sale and asked the man if he wouldn't mind telling them who the money was for.
As soon as he said SRP, they immediately warned him not to purchase the card and contact SRP at the 602-236-8888 phone number. When he did, the man was told his account was current and he did not owe them anything. He described his emotions at finding out he was being scammed.
"Rage, It was really rage and a feeling of stupidity because you go, how can you be taken advantage of like that?"
SRP spokeswoman Kathleen Mascarenas said this victim was not the only one.
"On the same day, this gentleman called us, by one' o'clock that day we had maybe a couple dozen people calling, saying this is happening, this is happening. I personally spoke to at least three people who had paid these scam artists," said Mascarenas.
She advised customers they could always reach an operator 24-hours a day, 365 days a year at the local 602 number. They did not have any numbers starting with the area code 844.
Mascarenas also said if someone truly did owe money and was on notice for disconnection, they would have received a paper notice in the mail, along with a phone call 24 hours prior to the disconnection. If you had signed up for text/email alerts, you would get warnings via text/email as well.
"We also want folks to know that we're not going to do these high-pressure panicky sales tactics with you," said Mascarenas.
SRP officials said if customers received a suspicious call they can call operators at 602-236-8833 for business customers and 602-236-8888 for residential customers. You can also call the account manager listed on your statement.
Here are some additional ways SRP suggests to prevent scams:
Sign up for My Account and manage SRP accounts 24/7 online or through their free Power mobile app. Customers can also receive an eNote alert regarding their account status and payment information by signing up in My Account.
Never give credit or debit card information to any caller or visitor without verifying their identity.
SRP will never demand immediate payment or threaten same-day disconnection. If customers feel they've been the target of a scam, contact SRP, local law enforcement, or the Arizona Attorney General's office at 602-542-5763.