A number of electric and gas utilities from several states have recently reported a telephone scam targeting their utility customers. While not yet reported in Minnesota, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission wants to alert all Minnesota customers to the scam.
Neighboring states Wisconsin and Nebraska and as many as 13 other states are all reporting similar fraud attempts.
In these attempts, an individual will call a customer of a utility company and represent that they are calling from the utility. The scammer’s caller-ID is falsified so it appears that the call originates from the utility company, a practice known as “spoofing.” This utility “representative” threatens that the electric or gas service to the home or business of the customer will be disconnected unless they make an immediate payment. To avoid a disconnection, the customer is told they must pay this “overdue utility bill” by means of an on-line payment service such as PayPal or a prepaid credit card. Of course, the funds are in fact directed to the scam artist’s operation.
Here in Sleepy Eye, if we contact our customers by phone about a past due utility bill, we do not ask for credit card or online payment. At this time we cannot process either form of payment. This is not to say that we do not call customers about past due bills. We do, but again, we don’t ask the customer for a credit card number or to make an online payment via PayPal or other online means. If you receive a suspicious call about a past due utility bill, hang up and call our billing department at 794-3731.