Butte, Mont. – Oct. 2, 2013 – NorthWestern Energy is again warning residential and business customers about an attempted scam involving collection on allegedly overdue utility bills. Billings-area residents and businesses appear to be a focus of the most recent scam attempts.
In one instance in the past week, a Billings business owner paid $1,700 to scam artists posing as employees of NorthWestern Energy. Other business and residential customers have contacted NorthWestern to report calls threatening electric-service disconnection if immediate payment isn’t made. In some cases, the caller has identified himself as “Dennis Miller” and uses a number that appears to originate in Utah.
While the recent activity has been concentrated in the Billings area, NorthWestern has been contacted about similar suspected schemes in Great Falls, Missoula and Aberdeen, S.D. in the latest round of scam activity.
The activity appears to be the latest version of a scam that has targeted a number of NorthWestern customers this year. Across the nation and in Montana, other utilities have reported similar scam activity. The phone callers typically seek immediate payment of “overdue” utility bills, often demanding credit-card numbers or other form of payment that can be converted to cash. In recent incidents, callers have asked for prepaid debit cards issued by retailers, payment via PayPal or other form of payment that prevents recovery of money by scam victims.
NorthWestern reminds customers to be vigilant when it comes to anyone seeking payment information on utility bills, either in person or via the telephone or Internet. The phone callers can be convincing. They might use “spoofing” software that lets them falsely display the name and phone number of the utility company on the recipient’s Caller ID.
NorthWestern will provide several 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.
The Better Business Bureau offers these tips to avoid falling victim to a utility scam:
- Never provide your Social Security Number, credit card number or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident with whom you are speaking.
- If you receive a call claiming to be your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.
- Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.
- Always think safety first. Do not give in to high-pressure tactics over the phone for information or in person.
Customers with questions or concerns about potential scams should contact NorthWestern Energy or their state’s Consumer Affairs department to report possible scams or questionable or business offers. Montana customers can contact NorthWestern at (888) 467-2669. South Dakota and Nebraska customers can contact NorthWestern at (800) 245-6977.
The Federal Trade Commission is also investigating utility scams and works with consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive or unfair business practices and to provide information to stop such activities. The FTC can be contacted at 1-877-FTC-HELP or (1-877-382-4357).
About NorthWestern Energy (NYSE: NWE)
NorthWestern Energy provides electricity and natural gas in the Upper Midwest and Northwest, serving approximately 673,200 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. More information on NorthWestern Energy is available on the company's website at www.northwesternenergy.com.