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Utility Scams On The Rise

Posted: July 1, 2021
Mark Hayden, GM

Don’t Fall Victim To Utility Scams

Every day, millions of Americans are targeted by scammers. Whether scammers strike online, via phone calls, emails, text messages or in person, a scammer’s tactics can change often. This is one of many reasons it’s important for consumers to stay on top of the latest scam reports from local and national news outlets, as well as your local utility companies.

Over the last few months, and even years, MEC members have contacted us to let us know they were targeted through a phone scam, where the scammers demanded immediate payment and threatened to shut off power if the money was not received. It’s important for our members to know that the Co-op will never call you and demand immediate payment over the phone.

We want you to be aware of two trending scam tactics. One is the overpayment trick, where a scammer contacts you and claims that you have overpaid your utility bill. The scammer will say they need your personal banking information to deposit the credit back to your checking account. Don’t fall for this scam! If you make an overpayment on your energy bill, MEC will automatically apply the credit to your account, which will carry over to your next billing cycle.

Another trending scam is smishing, which is short for SMS phishing. Many consumers know to watch out for suspicious emails, but we tend to trust text messages sent to our smartphones. Always question suspicious texts, especially from someone claiming to represent a utility. The Cooperative will only send you important updates via text if you’ve signed up for our text notifications. These are just a couple examples of trending scams, so it’s important to watch for red flags and trust your intuition.

It’s important to take a deep breath and take control of the situation if you feel you’re being targeted by a scammer:

Take Your Time
Utility scammers try to create a sense of urgency so that you’ll act fast and relay personal information, especially over the phone. Take a moment to think about the situation before acting. If you feel like something is off, it probably is.

Be Cautious
Scammers typically request immediate payment with prepaid debit cards or third-party apps. Unusual requests for payment should raise red flags. The Cooperative will never call members and ask for credit card information over the phone for compliance reasons. Instead, members are asked to submit payments via mail, in person, using our payment hotline or in their online member portal. If a request seems strange and out of the ordinary, you’re likely being targeted by a scammer.

Confirm Before You Act
If you’re contacted by someone claiming to work for the Co-op, but feel uneasy about your interaction, simply hang up the phone and call us directly at 406.541.4433. Our team is happy to verify the request being made.

Our increasingly “connected” world provides scammers with more opportunities to connect with unsuspecting consumers. Be vigilant, and please report any utility scams, so we can let others in other members know. Together, we can help prevent our friends and neighbors from becoming victims.