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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Area hit by utility scam

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

A phone scam is apparently making its way around the area targeting Montana-Dakota Utilities customers, and the utility company is stressing to customers that they will never call and demand payment for any supposed past due balance without sending notice by mail first.

With the current MDU phone scam, the caller claims to be seeking payment for past due balances and threatens to shut off service unless the customer calls a 1-800 number to speak to a phony MDU technician named “Anthony” and make an immediate payment to avoid service shut-off, even providing a phony MDU truck and operator number to help sell the scam.

But there’s no reason anyone should fall for this scam, said MDU spokesman Mark Hanson, because the utility company simply does not operate that way. If you do have a past due balance on your MDU bill, Hanson emphasized that the first contact you will have from the company is a letter in the mail reminding you — not a phone call demanding immediate payment.

“(MDU customers are) not going to get calls from us out of the blue without any prior contact,” Hanson said. “We just don’t operate that way. If someone is in arrears and we are looking to shut off their account, they will have gotten written notices in the mail.”

Hanson added that if you’re suspicious about a phone call like that, the best thing to do is to simply hang up. Even if the call somehow really was from MDU, he said it’s not like you’re going to hurt their feelings or get into any trouble by hanging up on them.

“If it was a legitimate call and you hang up and call our customer service line back, it’s not like there’s going to be any repercussions,” Hanson said. “There’s no downside to hanging up on a person doing that.”

Hanson added that he is not specifically aware of the scam currently targeting the Glendive/Dawson County area, but noted it’s nothing unusual these days.

“These kind of go in waves and hit different areas and they come and go,” he said.

The frequency with which scammers attempt to impersonate utility companies has led MDU to join a new national organization called Utilities United Against Scams. Hanson noted that more than 100 utility companies from across the nation are part of the group and that collectively they have had a measure of success in shutting down scammers.

“Since March 2017, the group has had over 800 phone numbers shut down that belonged to scammers,” Hanson said.

Battling scammers has become a major undertaking for utilities, Hanson noted, and with that, utility customers must be extra vigilant in today’s world to avoid falling victim to increasingly sophisticated scam artists.

“(Scammers) get very creative on how they try to do this and they try to scare people,” he said. “It’s amazing how much work people go into to steal from people.”

If you receive a phone call from a scammer claiming to be MDU, Hanson asks that you immediately call the MDU customer service line to report it, providing them with the phone number that called you and any other information you can add.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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