'It would sound legitimate to any of us!': Watch out for COVID-19 utility scams

Posted at 5:30 AM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 12:35:47-04

MILWAUKEE— Times are confusing and tough right now. As part of our continuing reports, The Rebound Milwaukee, we want to share resources to help you not fall under the pressure of a scam.

Our Call 4 Action Office just received a call from a Milwaukee woman who is out about $2,000 from a 'Utility Imposter Scam.'

Here’s how quickly it can happen: The phone rings. The person on the other end is your utility company, threatening to cut off your power. To stop them, you have to call an 800 number. With the pressure to make ends meet, you call the number.

Karen Stiles with our Call 4 Action Office talked to a victim of this impostor scam saying, “The caller even answered it stating they are with We Energies, and she pushed a button and she talked to a person it would sound legitimate to any of us!”

This is a scam We Energies is familiar with. Spokesman Amy Jahns says, “They are spoofing us by using recordings. They are using phone numbers that are similar to ours.”

The victim told Stiles the scammers urged her to buy prepaid debit cards to pay her bill. She did this several times. In all, Stiles says she lost nearly $2,000.

We Energies says they would never threaten to turn off your power within minutes if you do not pay a bill. In fact, a moratorium will remain in effect until this pandemic is over, but this victim is not alone.

“In the month of April we had 200 scam reports. Just in the first week of May we had nearly 100 reports,” said Jahns.

We reached out to the victim for an interview. She did not return our calls.

Monica Martinez with Utilities United Against Scams says the victim did the right thing to reach out to an agency that can work together.

“[Our organization can] let the toll free number provider know that number is being used for scams and so very often were able to go ahead and shut down that number," she said.

Your Rebound Rundown: We Energies will never call threatening to turn off your power within minutes, or require payment via prepaid debit cards. If you suspect a scam, hang up and call We Energies at (800) 242-9137.

If you are having a hard time paying your utility bills there is help. Depending on your situation, UMOS or Community Advocates could provide financial assistance.

If you have fallen for a scam, We Energies urges that you call local authorities.

You are also urged to file a report with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection by clicking here. Lastly, file a complaint with The Federal Trade Commission. Call the FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or you can reach them by clicking here.

You can also reach out to our Call 4 Action Office by clicking here.

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