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NorthWestern Energy warns of scams targeting Montana customers

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Posted at 11:35 AM, Mar 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-07 13:36:07-05

NorthWestern Energy is warning customers about continued scam activity that is targeting the utility’s Montana customers.

A Bozeman business received a phone call earlier this week from a scammer threatening that service would be disconnected in 30 minutes if payment was not made for an overdue energy bill.

The employee who took the call reported they saw a vehicle outside. After calling NorthWestern Energy to ask about the business’ account -- and learning the vehicle was not from the utility -- the business’ employee called local law enforcement.

NorthWestern Energy’s Customer Service Center continues to receive multiple reports from Montana customers that scammers are contacting them by phone, demanding payment within 30 minutes or their service will be disconnected.

The utility notes in a news release that they do not call customers and demand immediate payment of past-due bills. The utility will provide multiple past-due notices before terminating service.

Scammers are using technology to spoof NorthWestern Energy’s customer service number so that their call shows up on a caller ID as that number. The caller then gives instructions to call a different number to make a payment. That number has been reported to authorities.

Signs of Potential Scam Activity:

  • 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 in South Dakota and Nebraska. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.

Customers who suspect that 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.