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Heads Up: Disconnected utilities

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By Joel Dresang

A woman named Naomi called me to notify me that We Energies would be shutting off our house’s power in 45 minutes. She gave me a number to call if I had questions.

Our power was out for some tree trimming the week before, but I wasn’t aware of plans for another outage. I started to ask Naomi more, and she repeated the number to call.

When I said I was driving and couldn’t write down the number, Naomi offered to connect me with someone who could help.

A pleasant-sounding man introduced himself as Max and said he’d be happy to answer my questions. Then he asked me for the phone number associated with our utilities account.

But I had just heard Naomi share my cell phone number with Max as she transferred me to him. Then I remembered that my cell number is not on our We Energies account.

So I asked Max to tell me something about my account. “I’m getting this call out of the blue,” I said. “How do I know you’re with We Energies?”

He didn’t answer. I asked if he was still on the line. Still nothing. He didn’t hang up, but he didn’t respond. When I got home, I hung up and dialed the number back. A recording said the number was disconnected.

Heads Up is an occasional alert on consumer and investment scams.

Scammers are impersonating utility workers. In just the first two months of 2024, Milwaukee-based We Energies received more than 200 reports of scams.

I suspect Naomi and Max, or whatever their names are, were planning to tell me that I owed money and that I could keep our power on by giving them my credit card information. Such impostors also rank among the top categories nationwide for identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Utilities United Against Scams warns that utility-related impostors try to rip off consumers by phone, email, old-fashioned door-to-door solicitations and new-fangled technology.

“A more recent scam uses fraudulent websites that are identical to a utility payment page and that are promoted on search engines to trick customers into clicking the page and making a payment,” the trade group said.

We Energies advises against online searches for contacting your utility. Instead, rely on information on your most recent account statement for numbers to call and websites to go to.

Other tips:

  • Check it out. Don’t respond directly to unsolicited phone calls, emails or texts purporting to be from a utility. Use contact information from your bills to verify the communications are legitimate.
  • Protect your ID. Don’t share personal information with someone who reaches out to you. Although, when you initiate a call to the utility, you may need it to verify your identity. Again, just make sure you’re contacting the right place.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush into anything. If a call seems unexpected or desperate, if the person at your door gets insistent, excuse yourself and call the number on your recent utility bill.
  • Spread the word. Share these tips with others. If you believe you’ve been targeted for a scam, report it to the utility and local police.

Joel Dresang is vice president-communications for Landaas & Company.

Learn more:
Scammers Pretend To Be Your Utility Company, from the Federal Trade Commission
Beware of scammers, from We Energies
Learn the signs of a scam during National Consumer Protection Week, from We Energies
UUAS Warns Customers About New Scam Trend, from Utilities United against Scams
(initially posted May 31, 2024)

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