GRANITE COUNTY – Beware of calls by anyone looking to collect money, even if they are utility companies.
An area resident recently reported a scam phone call in which she was supposedly contacted by a representative of NorthWestern Energy notifying them that their business was two months behind on its power bill. The caller also stated that the power would be shut off in a day if the bill was not brought current. The caller did not ask for money, but instead told the resident to call a “customer service number” to make the payment and even gave her a reference number.
The number was not the same as the actual Customer Service number for NorthWestern Energy.
But the scammers had evidently done their homework, recording the voice messaging of the utility company’s phone system, knowing that most callers would not choose any option biut the one to make a payment.
The Flint Creek Courier called NorthWestern Energy and Public Relations Specialist JoDee Black verified that this is in fact a scam and that it is under investigation. Black also noted that NorthWestern energy is part of an Anti-Scam Coalition, a collection of utility companies that fight fraud in their industry.
Furthermore, the Flint Creek Courier called the number given the resident which is still active, but the payment officer’s mailbox was full.
One sure fire way to help avoid scams is to never blindly follow the directions of someone contacting you by phone or email. If a caller gives you a number to call and make a payment, always call the company’s number as ;posted in the phone book or on their website. In a threatening email, always navigate to the company’s website manually (typing it in yourself) and contacting their customer service agents there through chat or email.
Black sent the Flint Creek Courier a list of things that customers can do to ferret out possible scam activity.
From NorthWestern Energy…
NorthWestern does not call customers and demand immediate payment of past-due bills. The utility will provide multiple past-due notices before terminating service. If you get a cancellation notification, always verify it by dialing the customer service number on your utility bill. Don’t supply any personal information unless you are sure you are indeed working with the utility. NorthWestern never asks customers to use a prepaid debit card for payment.
Signs of Potential Scam Activity:
Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer his or her utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card – widely available at retail stores – then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment to his or her utility company.
Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card’s funds, and the victim’s money is gone.
How Customers Can Protect Themselves:
Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Northwestern Energy and other utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail, or in person.
If someone threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, customers should hang up the phone, delete the email, or shut the door. Customers with delinquent accounts receive advance disconnection notification. NorthWestern Energy and other utility companies never send a single notification one hour or less before disconnection.
If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email, or shut the door. They should call NorthWestern Energy’s customer service number, 888-467-2669 in Montana and 800-245-6977. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911. Customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during contact with one of these scammers, should contact local law enforcement authorities. The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.