Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Monday that his office (AGO), the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA), and public utilities are launching a program to combat utility gift card scams across the state. Arizona utility companies receive hundreds of calls every week from customers who’ve reported being targeted by scammers pressuring them to pay a bill using a prepaid gift card.
The AGO collaborated with the AFMA, Salt River Project (SRP), Southwest Gas, Arizona Public Service (APS), Tucson Electric Power (TEP), and UniSource Energy Services to install new warning signs at gift card displays within approximately 1,200 grocery and convenience stores across Arizona. The signs are designed to prompt customers to stop and think about why they’re buying the gift card. Oftentimes, scammers pretend to be from a utility company and threaten to shut off service unless a payment is made via prepaid gift cards.
“Scammers will use the scorching summer months as a scare tactic to demand money from consumers,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “If someone calls demanding payment with a gift card, hang up immediately. I am proud to work alongside our public utilities, retailers, and Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, to expand this consumer fraud awareness program to better protect Arizonans.”
The new signs are currently being installed in retailers such as the Bashas’ Family of Stores, Albertsons, Safeway, Los Altos Ranch Markets, and Circle K.
“The Arizona food industry has been working together for several years to reduce the gift card fraud in our locations,” said AFMA President Mark Miller. “Through our training and caring retail partners we have made a difference in reducing the fraud. But the fraud continues as the criminals continue to look for new ways to deceive our Arizona customers. We appreciate the Attorney General’s Office and the utility companies working together to help us with the warning signs in our stores.”
When AFMA learned that SRP had been fighting these gift card scammers for years, it asked SRP to join and expand the AGO’s awareness program for gift card fraud. SRP also worked to include APS, Southwest Gas, and TEP.
“I thank my frontline, grocery workers for caring about their customers and spending their valuable time and resources to help stop these scammers from victimizing people in our community,” said SRP Strategic Energy Manager, Sharon Kausal, who works with commercial utility customers every day. “The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance should be applauded for originally starting this program, so we had a good structure to build on.”
This awareness program is the third of its kind to come from the AGO over the past year. In November 2020, the AGO partnered with CVS Pharmacy to display stop signs within their Arizona stores to alert consumers about government imposter scams. In February 2021, the AGO launched a similar program with AFMA to install the signage in grocery and convenience stores across the state. This latest launch adds public utilities to the program.
The awareness programs were handled by Civil Litigation Division Chief Counsel Joseph Sciarrotta, Consumer Protection Unit Chief Counsel Matthew du Mee and Senior Litigation Counsel Mitchell Allee.
If you paid a scammer with a gift card, file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. The matter also may be referred to criminal law enforcement for handling. You may also contact the AGO at (602) 542-5763, in Tucson at (520) 628-6648, or outside the metro areas at (800) 352-8431. Bilingual consumer protection staff is available to assist.
Additional ways to prevent utility scams:
- Never give credit or debit card numbers or other personal information to any caller or visitor without knowing their true identity.
- Credible businesses will never demand immediate payments or threaten same-day disconnection or ask for payment via prepaid gift card like MoneyPak, GreenDot or cryptocurrency.
- Before power is disconnected, utilities will send one or more notices in the mail.
- Scams can happen by phone, in person, through email or by text.
- If customers sense it’s a scam, hang up immediately and contact the utility and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office at (602) 542-5763.