Beware of Scam Targeting
Electric Co-op Members
I wrote in last month’s Consumer Checkpoint column about a telephone scam that appears to be focused on Wisconsin electric cooperative members. My column brought a large response with readers asking me to write more about this scam. I turned to St. Croix Electric Cooperative President & CEO Mark Pendergast to provide details of what he and his staff have been seeing in his part of West Central Wisconsin. Mark reports that he is aware of at least two area businesses that were contacted by thieves.
One of the businesses, based in River Falls, reports the thief opened the telephone call by stating “the bank” had mistakenly pulled more than $6,000 from their business account, but the “co-op” noticed the error and sent the check back. However, the thief then said the business owner would need to write a check for the correct amount immediately or be disconnected. The thief followed up by asking how much the business typically paid for its electric bill and asked for the check and routing numbers on the checks used by the business. Fortunately, the business owner was holding a copy of the payment check to St. Croix Electric Cooperative in his hand at the time of the call and he also knew that his brother, the person who pays the businesses’ bills, would not make a mistake of that size. He immediately knew that this was a scam, hung up, and contacted the cooperative.
In a second incident, another business received a voice mail message from a caller claiming to be from St. Croix Electric and then threatening disconnection if the bill was not paid. The caller then left a Milwaukee-area phone number. Here too, quick thinking employees at the business immediately determined this was a scam because they are not actually located in St. Croix Electric’s service territory.
Mark expressed his appreciation for the quick action taken by saying, “These two businesses did the right thing and [immediately] contacted the co-op to let us know what was going on and we encourage our members and local residents to do the same, if they are contacted in this manner.” Mark reports his cooperative is working with local law enforcement. In addition, his co-op has posted notices on its website and social media sites reiterating what I emphasized last month in my column: your co-op will not ask for sensitive member information over the phone.
Happy New Year! Time to Check Your Credit Report
The New Year is a great time to check your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax—to determine if they contain errors that might make it difficult for you to obtain credit or cause you to be offered credit at a higher interest rate. Federal law requires each of the three credit reporting agencies to provide you with one free credit report each year. You may order all three credit reports at one time, or stagger them throughout the year, by contacting www.annualcreditreport.com. Be careful what internet address you type because there are other sites, such as www.freecreditreport.com, that advertise that it provides you with a “free” credit report, but the company will also sign you up for a credit monitoring service that includes a monthly charge.
Have a safe and enjoyable 2014.