The Minot Police Department Crime Prevention Unit received a report today from a local small business owner of a “Utility Scam” attempt where the scammer calls would-be victims claiming to be a collections agent for a utility company.
In this instance the scammer claimed to be with Xcel Energy and at one point changed this to Verendrye Electric claiming that the business owner was behind in electricity payments in the amount of $879.45. The scammer also said that if payment wasn’t received within an hour the electricity would be disconnected.The scammer also provided the business owner with the telephone number of“Disconnections” at 1-800-228-0427 to call back to verify the debt and pending disconnections action.
An officer with the Crime Prevention Unit called the number pretending to be the business owner’s spouse and agreed to pay the bogus bill. The scammer informed the officer that processing a credit card payment would take up to twenty-four hours and would not prevent the disconnection, therefore an in person cash payment was required at “a local payment office”. The scammer directed the officer to an area retail store to purchase “a voucher”, later described as a Money Pak prepaid credit card and said that the card number then would need to be shared with him. The scammer also claimed that the utility's office was not equipped to handle payments of this type and a voucher payment was the only way to avoid disconnection. The officer then identified himself as with the Minot Police Department and the scammer hung up on him.
This scam isn’t new and has been used to successfully dupe area small business owners as well as residential home owners out of several thousands of dollars.The Minot Police Department reminds area residents and business owners that no utility companies that serve the area attempt collections of a debt in this manner and will accept payments in their offices. We encourage you to call any creditor or utility directly with the phone numbers listed on their statements to verify debts and not take a caller’s word for it. We further warn the public that once prepaid card numbers are shared with scammers the money is immediately transferred, is not recoverable, and is often going out of state or overseas making criminal prosecution very difficult.