NorthWestern Energy Issues Scam Alert for Montana Customers
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Customers of NorthWestern Energy or any other utility company are being warned to be on the lookout for ‘energy scams’ including everything from ‘disconnection deception’ to a ‘door knocking impostor’.
KGVO News spoke with NorthWestern Energy’s Communications Specialist Jo Dee Black over the weekend about scams that particularly target elderly power customers.
NW Energy is Warning the Public about 'Energy Payment Scams'
“Scams can hit anyone,” began Black. “We hear scams of professionals, students, of seniors, of the whole community, so it's maddening when it's a vulnerable population. Certainly, my parents are older, but it can happen to anyone. We all always have to be alert.”
Black said NorthWestern Energy may be the largest power provider, but all power customers are at risk of deceptive practices.
“We are the largest energy provider in Montana, but we have 400,000 residents in Montana that are members of electric cooperatives, and there are other energy providers in the state. Unfortunately, scammers don't care who you do business with. They will use that fear tactic to try to steal your hard-earned money.”
Black Describes the Tactic called 'Spoofing'
One tactic scammers use often is called ‘spoofing’. Black explained how it works.
“These thieves use software that may show up on your caller ID as a company or a number that you recognize,” she said. “That technique is called spoofing. It's illegal, but it gets us to answer the phone. So you've answered the phone and you hear, ‘This is your electric company’. They might not even say a name, and say that your account is past due, and if you don't make payment in 30 minutes, your service will be disconnected, and here's the number to call to make your payment.”
That call will lead to instructions on how and where to send payment, however, the tactic is designed to take your money and disappear.
Black described yet another scam tactic.
Utilities will never Demand Payment in This way
“We've also heard reports of the scammer telling their victim to go to a retail store and purchase a pre-paid debit card to pay with. That is a payment method that's harder to trace and harder to retract. Unfortunately, scammers know that fear and urgency are what a scammer uses to get us to do things that we just normally wouldn't do.”
Some of the techniques include an ‘identification attack’, a ‘power restoration charge’, an ‘overpayment tactic’, and even a live person at the door impersonating the company.
Utility Companies must go through a Long Process to cut off Service
Black said all utility companies must go through an exhaustive process before cutting off service to any customer, and said NorthWestern Energy works hard to find a solution for those having trouble paying their bill.
"If you're a NorthWestern Energy customer, and you are struggling to pay your bills and if things are going on with your budget, we want people to contact us right away," she said. "We've got payment plans; we can refer people to energy assistance programs; we can offer some tools such as budget billing that evens out your bill throughout the year, and we will work with you. And I feel confident in saying that any service provider in Montana of water, gas, or electricity will work with their customers or members."
Click here for details on how to report an energy scam.