With the cold weather projected to last for the next couple of days, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission advises consumers to be on their guard against deceptive telephone calls placed under the guise of being on behalf of a utility seeking immediate payment for an “overdue” bill.
In this criminal activity, the caller falsely claims to be calling from the gas or electric company. The scammer’s caller-ID is falsified so it appears that the call originates from the utility company, a practice known as “spoofing.” This utility “representative” threatens that the electric or gas service to the home or business will be disconnected unless the customer makes an immediate payment.
To avoid a disconnection, the customer is directed to pay an “overdue utility bill” with an online payment service or a prepaid credit card. Of course, the funds are directed to the scam artist’s operation, and not to the utility.
Utilities do not demand prompt payment by phone. Any customer who is suspicious of a call threatening disconnection or demanding immediate payment, should hang up and directly call their utility’s customer service representative to report the call.
The protections of Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule are now in effect until April 15. The rule protects residential utility customers from having their heat shut off during the winter months. To prevent heating disconnection, customers must first contact their utility to establish and maintain a monthly payment plan. All electric and natural gas companies are required to offer Cold Weather Rule protection.
A customer can contact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regarding the Cold Weather Rule or suspected scamming activity. The Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-296-0406 or toll free at 1-800-657-3782.