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NorthWestern Energy warns of utility scams

Posted at 11:06 AM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 10:54:27-05
NorthWestern Energy
NorthWestern Energy in Butte (MTN News photo)

BUTTE – NorthWestern Energy is raising awareness of utility scams and offering advice to customers on how to not fall victim.

NorthWestern Energy is a member of Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of 125 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas companies and their respective trade associations, which works across the industry with regulators, law enforcement, and other telecommunications partners to stop scams targeting utility customers, according to a press release.

“Our Customer Service Representatives receive calls every week from customers reporting scam activity,” stated NorthWestern Energy Director of Customer Interaction John Thurmond. “This is a terrible and expensive crime and the more we can do to raise awareness the better it is for all of us.”

In 2018, UUAS and its member companies helped to shut down more than 2,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers to target utility customers.

NorthWestern Energy has successfully shut down hundreds of the numbers with the help of customers who report the phone numbers would-be scammers tell them to call back on to make a “payment,” according to Monday’s press release.

“We report that number and the carrier is notified,” stated Thurmond. “There is an investigation and if the number is being used for fraud, it is shut down.”

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 in South Dakota and Nebraska. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.

NorthWestern Energy reported that customers who suspect they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during contact with one of these scammers, should contact local law enforcement authorities.