Xcel Energy is warning customers of suspicious utility bills after receiving reports of over 120 cases of billing fraud in the upper Midwest.
Utility representatives say the incidents typically involve individuals who impersonate Xcel Energy or collection agency personnel to illegally obtain payments, but in some cases, the caller may actually have a customer's account number. While Xcel representatives say that is rare, the sophisticated take on an age-old fraud scheme is concerning.
Lucia Vogel was one of the customers targeted by the crooks. She told FOX 9 News the caller not only had her account number, but they also knew the amount she paid on her last bill.
Vogel said the call came last week, and the person on the other end of the line told her the check she wrote couldn't go through because her signature wasn't clear. The caller then claimed her electricity would be cut off in a half an hour unless she paid $353, but she didn't buy it.
"I heard children in the background running. He was trying to hush them up," she said. "I called Xcel and found out it wasn't true."
Another thing that made Vogel suspicious was that the caller only spoke Spanish and called her back four more times. Now, she hopes other business owners don't get duped.
Xcel says many of the victims have been seniors and small business owners for whom English is a second language. In most cases, the person tries to get the Xcel customer to buy a prepaid credit card and then read the account information over the phone.
Occasionally, an impersonator will show up to a victim's home and tell them their meter is broken before demanding up-front payment for repairs. Anyone who suspects they may be experiencing utility fraud is urged to call Xcel Energy customer services at 1-800-895-4999 and local police.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Xcel says imposters can rope a customer with the following techniques:
- Claiming the customer has an outstanding debt and is about to lose service.
- Directing the customer to go to a local retailer and purchase a pre-paid cash card. The impersonator then persuades the customer to provide the card number over the phone.
- Requesting payment over the phone by credit card or personal check.
- Providing a fake employee name and/or a fake ID number, and offering to come to the customer's residence to pick up the payment.
- Imposters often seek a set amount of money that may not correspond with the amount owed, such as $150 to $200.
AVOID A SCAM
Xcel Energy reminds customers to only use authorized methods to pay their bills and call customer service with any concerns or questions.
Anyone who may have given credit card information over the phone and is now suspicious should call the credit card company and follow their recommendations.
For more information visit: http://www.xcelenergy.com/Safety_&_Education/At_Home_&_Work/Other_Safety/Protect_Your_Information