The Billings Outpost

NorthWestern warns of scam

NorthWestern Energy is again warning residential and business customers about an attempted scam involving collection on allegedly overdue utility bills.

In recent days, an individual telephoned a NorthWestern Energy customer in Huron, S.D., claiming to be an employee of the company and demanding payment on an energy bill. The customer was told that if immediate payment wasn’t made, utility service would be terminated.

The customer lost $300 after purchasing a prepaid debit card issued by a discount store and sharing the card’s redemption information with the scammer. The customer later contacted NorthWestern Energy to report the activity. A similar attempt targeting a NorthWestern customer in Butte, was also reported. In May, a business owner in Bozeman lost $1,000 in a nearly identical scam.

NorthWestern reported the recent incidents to law enforcement authorities. The activity appears to be the latest version of a scam that has targeted a number of NorthWestern customers this year. Across the nation, 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.

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.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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