PITTSBURG — A local electric utility and the Pittsburg Police Department on Friday issued a warning to residents and businesses about a scam targeting electric customers.

The caller tells customers their account is behind and they are scheduled for cutoff unless the amount is paid within 30 minutes by credit card over the phone.

Westar Energy officials said they have received a number of calls from customers in Crawford County who said they were contacted.

Pittsburg officials said one local business owner said she was called by a person claiming to be David. He told the customer she had not replied to the last four letters the company allegedly sent seeking back payment.

In this case the customer knew she was not behind and called the bank to make sure her payment checks had cleared. She then called Westar to make sure the company was not going to disconnect her.

Gina Pinzig, manager of media relations for Weststar, said the company is attempting to alert customers those types of calls are scams.

"We've gotten a pretty large volume of calls and suspect that a lot more people who have been contacted don't let us know," she said. The calls coming to Crawford County customers are similar to those received in other areas of the state periodically, Penzig said.

"What we're learning is that the callers generally focus on specific geographic areas of the state," she said. "The scammers call with the hope that before the customer has time to think things through that they will pay."

She said the scammers either want credit card payment or want the customer to get a prepaid credit card and to call the scammer back.

"In many cases the impostors are providing a toll-free phone number that when called sounds like Westar Energy's automated phone system," said Jeff Beasley, Westar Vice President of Customer Care.

"The caller creates a sense of panic by saying that electric service will be cut off if payment is not made within a short time," Beasley said. "They are counting on people taking action before they stop to think."

Penzig said it is not Westar's policy to call people demanding immediate payment. Notices are sent out through the mail and then the company's automated calling system may be used to followup as a reminder. But never is payment demanded over the phone, she said.

Customers who believe they have an issue with payment are asked to call the company at 1-800-383-1183.

"We've worked with the Consumer Protection Agency of the Kansas Attorney General's Office," Penzig said. One of the return callback numbers given to at least some area Westar customers was for a "337" area code.

But Penzig said with technology today the calls could be coming from about anywhere and even possibly from outside the United States.

"They have a pretty sophisticated approach that unfortunately some people fall for," Penzig said.

She said the problem is nationwide in scope. Penzig urged any customer receiving a suspicious call to contact the Kansas Attorney General's Office via the Internet at InYourCornerKansas.org.

— Mike Elswick is a staff writer for the Pittsburg Morning Sun and can be reached at melswick@morningsun.net.