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John J. Watkins, The Times

GRIFFITH — A local business owner says he was the target of a NIPSCO phone scam this week and wants to warn others so they don't fall prey. 

Steven Stelk said he received a phone call Tuesday while working at Trackside Garage in Griffith from someone posing as a NIPSCO employee.

The caller ID even read NIPSCO and displayed NIPSCO’s 1-800 number, he said.

The scammer informed Stelk he owed "for a new meter that was installed back in January," and that he needed to pay $998 to avoid his power being shut off. The scammer explained "NIPSCO" had crews heading to Griffith and would be at his business within the hour. 

"I was being instructed to make a cash payment at an office in South Bend," Stelk said. "I’m guessing they use the South Bend location knowing no one could possibly drive to South Bend from Griffith in less than an hour."

The other option was to go to a CVS or Family Dollar and purchase a loadable money card to pay the deposit, he said. 

"I just want people to know if anybody gets that phone call, hang up and call NIPSCO direct. Don't use the redial option because you don't know who you could be reaching," he said. 

'These calls are not from us'

In a news release issued Wednesday, NIPSCO warned customers about reports of the scam. 

"Over the past few days, unknown callers, claiming to be affiliated with NIPSCO, have been contacting customers demanding payment through a prepaid card. These calls are NOT from us or anyone affiliated with us," NIPSCO said in a news release. 

NIPSCO urged people to call the utility company's 24-hour Customer Care Center at 1-800-464-7726 if they are unsure of the legitimacy of a call from NIPSCO. 

"We will never ask for a prepaid debit card or money gram as a payment method," NIPSCO said. 

People can avoid being victims of scams by never giving out personal information, such as Social Security numbers or banking information, to unconfirmed sources. NIPSCO only asks for a Social Security number when a customer is signing up for a new service, according to NIPSCO's website. 

NIPSCO urges anyone who believes they may have been the victim of a scam to contact 911 as well as the local banking institution or credit card company if applicable.

'The scammers have moved on'

Stelk, who is also a longtime Griffith firefighter, said he phoned the callback number the NIPSCO scammer provided out of curiosity on Wednesday.

"It stated you were calling Georgia Power, so the scammers have moved on ... I called Georgia Power and in their opening voice recording, Georgia Power warns of the scam that is taking place," he said. 

Stelk said he was personally invested in learning more about this scam because he was targeted two years ago by a similar scammer and "hates seeing" scammers take advantage of business owners and the elderly.

"I like the detective footwork. I've been an auto mechanic for 40 years. I guess it's the diagnostics I enjoy," Stelk said. 

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Public safety reporter

Lauren covers breaking news, crime and courts for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet covering government, public policy, and the region’s heroin epidemic. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.