More Utilities Scams Striking Wisconsin
I’d like to supplement my January 2014 utility scam warning because Wisconsin electric cooperatives are receiving even more member reports about new scams. One reported scam begins with an email that is from “Energy Billing Systems” or “Billing Energy Systems” where the cooperative member is told they owe their electric utility either $500, $524 or $524.30. The e-mails often include a 10-digit billing number to make them seem more legitimate. The email recipient is then told to make immediate payment by logging on to a link that is provided or their power will be shut off. If you receive an email solicitation like this, immediately notify your electric cooperative by phone and then delete the message. Never respond to the email. As with telephone solicitations, you cannot verify the identity of the sender. Moreover, your local electric cooperative will not contact you about a billing matter by either email or telephone, and certainly not request that you make immediate payment or request that you “verify your account information.”
Another scam includes a thief calling electric and telephone cooperative members to pitch a “limited time offer” of one or two years of increased services such as HD movies, a new DVR, high speed internet service, or VoIP service (voice over internet service) for a single payment with a direction that the consumer go to a local store such as Walmart or Walgreens to buy a Green Dot Visa card and to call back the thief with the Visa card numbers. As you can imagine, the thief then uses the numbers to fully charge the Visa card. Do not fall for this scam no matter how good the offer sounds because, once again, you cannot verify the identity of the caller. The best defense is to just hang up your phone.
Yet another scam includes the cooperative member receiving a phone call from a thief saying they are from the “power company” and are checking on the member’s usage. The thief states the member has had alarmingly high electric usage that is “enough to power an amusement park” and that they need to immediately leave their house so that the “power company” may check the power lines going into the house.” Fortunately, this Dunn Energy Cooperative member knew that her best defense was to hang up and to call the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and the cooperative. Dunn Energy Cooperative immediately advised its members of the scam and said, “Remember, if the call is suspicious, it won’t hurt our feelings if you politely hang up and call us directly at a phone number you are comfortable with to verify the call.”
Wisconsin is nationally known as a “victim state” because thieves know we tend to be more trusting than people in other states. Unfortunately, this makes us more likely to fall prey to scams. Your electric cooperative wants you to have a safe and enjoyable summer and asks that you continue to keep your guard up about scams. Remember, if you can’t verify who is actually calling or emailing you, your best protection is to hang up the call -- or delete the e-mail message -- and report the call or e-mail to your local police department and electric or telephone cooperative.