Scammers impersonating utility bill collectors target Twin Cities

  • Article by: Kelly Smith
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2013 - 10:03 PM

A Plymouth restaurant is the latest victim in a widespread utility scam that’s recently started targeting Twin Cities businesses and residents.

Xcel Energy has received more than 400 complaints across the Midwest this year about the growing phone scam, prompting local police to issue warnings this week about callers impersonating utility bill collectors.

Two businesses in Plymouth received the calls and contacted police, but it was too late for one, a restaurant that requested not to be named and had already wired $1,000 to someone it thought was an Xcel Energy employee.

“The unique thing is they’re [pretending to be] a local company so it makes it more believable,” Plymouth officer Angela Haseman said. “It’s a new twist for us that we haven’t seen before.”

In the two police reports of the scam, a male caller with a “Middle Eastern” accent threatened to shut off electricity to the business if an outstanding bill wasn’t paid through a wire transfer.

The South Lake Minnetonka Police recounted a similar scenario in an alert to residents this week, saying that a caller posed as an Xcel Energy employee and called a local business and said it needed to provide credit card information over the phone or send money via Express Moneypak or service would be disconnected.

And in Wisconsin, Xcel Energy issued an alert to Wisconsin customers this week, saying that scammers used a fake employee name and fake ID number to get people to pay up by either telling them to purchase a prepaid cash card and then provide them with the number, or give them their credit card or a check.

“They’re elaborate,” Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Hoen said of the scams. “Unfortunately, they’re out there.”

Xcel Energy says it has received nearly 850 reports nationwide this year of scammers impersonating utility bill collectors and of those, about 400 were in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

And the company isn’t alone.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative recently issued a similar alert to customers. And CenterPoint Energy said a customer reported a scammer posing as a utility bill collector who told her she would get a free $100 Wal-Mart gift card if she paid a $9.95 processing fee.

“Utility companies nationwide are being hit with this,” Hoen said.

Any suspicious phone calls should be reported to police and Xcel’s customer service at 1-800-895-4999.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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