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NorthWestern Energy warns of scam

Published On: Oct 28 2013 01:12:49 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

The following is a news release from Northwestern Energy.

NorthWestern Energy is again warning residential and business customers about an attempted scam involving collection of allegedly overdue utility bills. The scam appears to be targeting Butte businesses.

According to business owners, they have received calls from a person claiming to be a NorthWestern Energy employee telling them they need to immediately pay an overdue energy bill or service will be terminated immediately. The caller typically asks for payment via a prepaid debit card.

About a half dozen Butte businesses, ranging from grocery stores to gas station/convenience stores, reported such calls on Monday, Oct. 28, 2013. NorthWestern is not aware of any Butte customers making payments as a result of the threats.

The activity appears to be the latest round of a scam that has targeted a number of NorthWestern customers across the company's service territory. Other utilities in Montana and across the nation have reported similar scam activity in the past year. 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).