Beware of Utility Shut-Off Scams

Minnesota is a state with four seasons. When temperatures spike over 90 or dip below zero degrees, it can be crucial to keep the power on. And people count on electricity to fuel our technology. Scam artists threaten to turn off utility services if people don’t “pay up.”

It could happen like this:
“Ben” got a call at work from someone who purported to be from his company’s electric utility company. The caller claimed Ben’s company was behind on its electric bill and said that the power would be shut off if a payment was not made within an hour. Ben told the caller he would check with his bookkeeper and call back. The bookkeeper said all payments were current. The utility company then confirmed that Ben’s business did not have a late balance and it had not placed the call./p>

How the Scam Works

A person or organization receives a call from someone who claims to represent the utility company. Most often, the individual claims the person or organization is behind on their electric bill and threatens to shut down the power soon if the money is not paid. The scam artists usually ask people to pay the “balance” via prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

The scam artist may try to create a sense of urgency to prevent the person or business from verifying the legitimacy of the call. While scam artists most often impersonate electric utilities, scammers sometimes impersonate other utility companies, such as television providers or water utility companies.

How to Protect Yourself or Your Organization

There are steps you can take to protect yourself:

Reporting Utility Shut-Off Scam Calls

If you receive a utility shut-off scam call, you should report it to your utility company. You should also report the call to your local police department or sheriff’s office.

You can also report utility shut-off scams to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), which has the authority to enforce federal laws regulating nuisance calls and interstate fraud over the telephone. The FTC may be reached as follows:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261
www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov external link

If you’re having trouble with a utility, you may contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or TTY: (800) 366-4812


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