DENVER - John Irvin was working in his gluten free bakery Friday morning when he got a phone call.
The caller, who was posing an Xcel Energy representative, said Irvin was late with a $412.01 utility payment.
"He said, 'We've already sent people out to shut your power off in the next 30 to 45 minutes,'" Irvin said.
The call was from a scammer -- one call in a long list of targeted efforts to steal money from individuals in the "green dot-card scam."
The caller told Irvin that he had to pay the bill in person at 2005 Lime Road in Pueblo, a two-hour drive from Irvin's business, Gluten Free Things in Arvada.
When Irvin said he couldn’t possibly make the drive before the technician arrived to shut off the power to his bakery, the caller said that he could instead go buy a "Green Dot MoneyPak" card and pay the bill that way.
"I went over to King Soopers," Irvin said. "I picked up this Visa [Green Dot card] for $412.01. I was sitting in my truck and the guy called me back. Now thinking about it, it's kind of weird for them to be calling me back. And he was getting a little irate with me, telling me I had gotten the wrong kind of card."
Irvin had bought a Visa Gold Green Dot card, one that can be traced.
Regular Green Dot cards cannot be traced. The caller tells the victim to scratch off the coating on the back of the card and provide the serial number, which allows the scam artists to immediately cash it.
"He would’ve unloaded it and I wouldn't have been able to get the money back," Irvin said.
Thinking that something was not right, Irvin called back to the number that had originally called him. This time, he reached a real Xcel Energy representative.
"That's when I found out that my power was not going to be shut off," he said.
The scammer had set up the caller ID so that it looked like he was calling from what is a real Xcel Energy phone number. The real Xcel employee that Irvin spoke with told him that this scam is not new, and that she had received two or three similar calls from customers just in the past week.
"We would not call someone and say, 'Hey, we're going to come shut your power off in 30 minutes,'" said Gabriel Romero, an Xcel spokesman. "It's a process. If we were at the point that we were going to shut your power off, you would know about it. You would have had several notices that your bill was overdue."
Scammers have used the Green Dot card swindle in a variety of ploys. In March of 2013, police were hearing reports of the scammers posing as sweepstakes representatives, telling victims that they had won and they needed to pay taxes before claiming their prize.
Last fall, victims received phone calls from a man posing as "Major Tom Wilson" -- a phony Jefferson County sheriff's official -- who told victims that they missed jury duty and are going to be arrested.
The caller told the victims they could avoid going to jail if they went to Walmart or Walgreens and buy $500 worth of "Green Dot MoneyPak" cards, real sheriff's officials told 7NEWS. The prepaid cards would supposedly cover the fines for failing to appear for jury duty. The suspect instructed victims to buy the cards, scratch off the numbers on the back and provide those numbers to the suspect. Anyone the cardholder shares the number with has instant access to the cash.
MoneyPak.com warns consumers about such scams: "Use your MoneyPak number only with businesses on our approved list. If anyone else asks for your MoneyPak number or information from your receipt, it’s probably a scam. Don’t give your MoneyPak number to pay for something you buy through the classifieds or to collect a prize or sweepstakes. Do not give away your receipt information to another party either. If you give your MoneyPak number or information about the purchase transaction to a criminal, Green Dot is not responsible for paying you back. Your MoneyPak is not a bank account. The funds are not insured against loss."