The bad guys are becoming ever more flexible and creative in the ways they scam electric cooperative members.
Scammers are using one phone number to impersonate different utilities.
“You never know who they’re going to be in a given day,” said Mike Morley, corporate communications manager at Midwest Energy in Hays, Kan. “They’ve adapted their tactics to where the same group will impersonate a number of utilities.”
Morley said it used to be that victims threatened with disconnection were told by scammers to buy a prepaid card and that they’d be called back in a couple of hours.
“Now they call and say, ‘This is Midwest Energy. Your account is past due, and we need you to call us back,’” Morley said, adding that “spoofing” software fools the caller ID into displaying “Midwest Energy.”
“When they call back, they get a voice menu that sounds exactly like ours. And it’s not just us — other utilities in Kansas have reported this.”
A Midwest Energy staffer called the toll-free number posing as a member, using a phony name and account number, and was told $780 was owed. The staffer was even instructed to go to a specific nearby store to buy a ReloadIt prepaid card.
When an ECT.coop reporter dialed the same number another day, the recording claimed it was Eversource, a New England investor-owned utility. Upon reaching a live person, the reporter gave a phony location in Eversource’s Springfield, Mass., territory. After tapping on a keyboard, the man on the phone told the reporter there was a $997.78 delinquent balance and to go to a supermarket 2 miles away to buy ReloadIt cards and call back with the numbers.
When the reporter told the man that the address was actually in the middle of a river, the man responded, “I’m playing around with you.” When asked why on another day the same phone number was Midwest Energy, the reply was, “Because I can do what the hell I want.” Asked how much they were making scamming people, the reporter was told, “All you need to know that we doing OK. [sic]”
Morley knows of two victimized Midwest Energy business members. One lost about $1,500, the other about $400.
“The unfortunate thing is for each one that we know of, it’s quite likely there are many others that we don’t,” Morley said.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Durango-based La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) is warning members about another scam in which businesses are told to pay $500 to a “meter man” who will be there within the hour.
“Every time we turn around, there’s a new twist,” said Steve Gregg, LPEA chief operating officer. He said victims are told the person is coming to install a new “GPS meter” — something that doesn’t exist.
“This current scammer is claiming that they will be on-site at the location to pick up funds,” Gregg said.
Scams take many forms and happen all over the country. Guernsey-Muskingum Electric Cooperative urges you to be cautious about threatening phone calls and emails that may sound or look legitimate.
If you receive a phone call regarding your overdue account, please do not give your personal, financial or electric account information to the caller unless you can verify that you are speaking with a representative of Guernsey-Muskingum Electric. There are various ways we can assure you that you are speaking with someone at our location and not a scammer.
If you do not feel comfortable making a payment over the phone, please feel free to use our convenient automatic bill pay option, come into our office during normal business hours, mail your payment or drop your payment in the secure drop-box located near the drive-up window.
If you receive a phone call and suspect that you are being scammed, please get as much information as possible from the caller then hang up and contact our office immediately at 800-521-9879!
Guernsey-Muskingum Electric cares about our members, and we want to assure you that we take these reports very seriously. Thank you!
Michael W. Kahn writes for ECT.coop, the online news source for America’s electric cooperatives.