BUTTE – Some Montana customers of NorthWestern Energy are being targeted by a scam threatening immediate utility shut offs.
Customers have reported that they receive a call and a recording plays telling the customer to call a 1-800 number to avoid having their utility service interrupted.
Customers who called the phone number report the person who answers the call demands immediate payment.
The scammers appear to be calling utility customers throughout Montana. NorthWestern Energy has reported the scam and the phone number being used to authorities.
The utility company notes in a news release that they do not call customers and demand immediate payment of past-due bills. The utility will provide several past-due notices before terminating service.
NorthWestern Energy advises that 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 working with the utility company.
NorthWestern Energy also never asks customers to use a prepaid debit card for payment.
Below are signs of potential scam activity as provided by NorthWestern Energy:
- Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer his or her utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected if a payment is not made – usually within less than an hour.
- Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card – widely available at retail stores – then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment to his or her utility company.
- Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card’s funds, and the victim’s money is gone.
How Customers Can Protect Themselves:
- Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Northwestern Energy and other utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail, or in person.
- If someone threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service, customers should hang up the phone, delete the email, or shut the door. Customers with delinquent accounts receive advance disconnection notification. NorthWestern Energy and other utility companies never send a single notification one hour or less before disconnection.
- If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email, or shut the door. They should call NorthWestern Energy’s customer service number, 888-467-2669 in Montana and 800-245-6977. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.
NorthWestern Energy customers who suspect they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during contact with one of these scammers, should contact local law enforcement authorities.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.