By Syd Briggs,
It’s no secret that consumers with a water, gas, or electricity connection have long been targets for utility scams, but fraudsters have changed their tactics since the COVID-19 pandemic.
As consumers became more reliant on technology for work, school, and commerce, scammers noted these shifts and adapted their tactics to this changed environment.
Imposter scams are the number one type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission. While scam artists may come to your door posing as a utility worker who works for the “power company,” in today’s more connected world, attempts are more likely to come through an electronic device, via email, phone, or text.
Common types of scams
A scammer may claim you are overdue on your electric bill and threaten to disconnect your service if you don’t pay immediately. Whether this is done in-person, by phone, text, or email, the scammers want to scare you into immediate payment so you don’t have time to think clearly.
Please know before we shut off a service for non-pay, we will send a disconnect letter and then call to offer payment arrangements. If there is any doubt that your caller is not with Steele-Waseca, you have the option of getting the name of the person on the phone, ending the call, and calling us directly. You can always call us at the numbers found on this page adjacent to this column. Our phone number can also be found on your monthly bill and on our website, swce.coop.
If the scam is by email or text, delete it before taking any action. If you’re unsure, you can always contact us, or use the Steele-Waseca apps available on the App Store or Google Play to check the status of your account. Remember, Steele-Waseca will never attempt to demand immediate payment after just one notice.
Some scammers may falsely claim you have been overcharged on your bill and say they want to give a refund. It sounds easy. All you have to do is click or press a button to initiate the process. If you proceed, you will be prompted to provide banking or other personal information. Instead of money going into your bank account, the scammers can drain your account and use personal information such as a social security number for identity theft.
A form of this type of scam was reported in recent weeks to Steele-Waseca. According to our customer service representatives, the scam call was automated and stated the member has been overpaying on their bill, and they would get a refund and a lower rate. The member was then prompted to press 1 to speak with a representative. When this occurred, Steele-Waseca alerted followers of our Facebook page to this scam, and explained this is not how Steele-Waseca conducts business.
We process overpayments as either a credit on the account, or if it’s a large amount, we send a physical check. We never use or ask for banking information for refunds. If you have any doubts, it is best to end the call and dial our office. You may want to also block the number to prevent future robocalls. If this scam attempt occurs via email (known as a “phishing” attempt), or by text (“smishing”), do not click on any links. Instead, delete it, and if possible, block the sender. If you do overpay on your Steele-Waseca account, the co-op will apply it as a credit, which will be applied to your next bill. When in doubt, contact us.
Defend yourself against scams
Be wary of calls or texts from unknown numbers. Be suspicious of an unknown person claiming to be a utility worker who requests banking or other personal information.
Never let anyone into your home that you don’t know unless you have a scheduled appointment or reported a problem. Steele-Waseca line technicians have the co-op’s logo on their uniforms that matches the logo on their trucks. When Steele-Waseca performs work on our members’ property or has our Master Electrician Joel Dulas come into your home, our employees are professional and will always identify themselves.
Steele-Waseca wants to help protect the communities in our service area against utility scams, and you can help create the first line of defense. Please report any potential scams to us so we can spread the word to prevent others from falling victim.