Campaign protects customers from scammers

Great River Energy has joined gas and electric utility companies across the United States and Canada as well as the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) to protect customers from long-running scams targeting customers of utility service providers.

Reports of phone, email and door-to-door scams are back again and represent thousands of dollars lost by customer victims. That is why Minnesota utilities, including many electric cooperatives, participated in the first national Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS) event and have designated Nov. 16 as “Utilities United Against Scams Day.”

This day is supported by a week-long campaign focused on exposing the tricks scammers use to steal money, and how customers can protect themselves.

“These schemes often ramp up with the change in seasons,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Like most scams, it plays on peoples’ fears and has proven to be quite effective, unfortunately.”

During the phone scam, a customer receives a phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be a utility representative. The scammer warns that the utility will disconnect the customer’s electric or natural gas service if the customer fails to make a payment – usually within a short time frame.

Scammers have even duplicated utilities’ telephone messages and automated response systems so when customers call phone numbers provided by the scammer it sounds legitimate.

The campaign encourages the public to share these messages to help guard against scam activity.  Some Minnesota utilities experience an increase of more than 30 percent in customer scam attempts when colder temperatures set in.

The utility companies of Minnesota and the BBB continue to enhance efforts to educate the public.  For the first time, in 2014, Minnesota utilities joined forces with the BBB to launch “Slam the Scam” – a coalition and awareness campaign aimed at warning customers and preventing scams.