The bad guys are becoming ever more flexible and creative in the ways they scam electric cooperative members.
“You never know who they’re going to be in a given day,” said Mike Morley, corporate communications manager at Midwest Energy  in Hays, Kan. “They’ve adapted their tactics to where the same group will impersonate a number of utilities.”
Morley, who first spoke to ECT.coop about scams in March 2013,  said that it used to be victims threatened with disconnection were told by scammers to buy a prepaid card and that they’d be called back in a couple of hours.
“Now they call and say, ‘This is Midwest Energy. Your account is past due and we need you to call us back,’” Morley said, adding that spoofing software fools the caller ID into displaying “Midwest Energy.”
“When they call back they get a voice menu that sounds exactly like ours. And it’s not just us—other utilities in Kansas have reported this.”
A Midwest Energy staffer called the toll-free number posing as a member using a phony name and account number, and was told they owed $780. The staffer was even instructed to go to a specific nearby store to buy a ReloadIt prepaid card.
When an ECT.coop reporter dialed the same number another day, the recording claimed it was Eversource, a New England investor-owned utility. Upon reaching a live person, the reporter gave a phony location in Eversource’s Springfield, Mass., territory. After tapping on a keyboard, the man on the phone told the reporter there was a $997.78 delinquent balance and to go to a supermarket two miles away to buy ReloadIt cards and call back with the numbers.
When the reporter told the man that the address was actually in the middle of a river, the man responded, “I’m playing around with you.” When asked why on another day the same phone number was Midwest Energy, the reply was, “Because I can do what the hell I want.” Asked how much they were making scamming people, the reporter was told, “All you need to know that we doing OK. [sic]”
Morley knows of two victimized Midwest Energy business members. One lost about $1,500; the other about $400.
“The unfortunate thing is for each one that we know of, it’s quite likely there are many others that we don’t,” Morley said.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Durango-based La Plata Electric Association  is warning members about another scam in which businesses are told to pay $500 to a “meter man” who will be there within the hour.
“Every time we turn around, there’s a new twist,” said Steve Gregg, LPEA chief operating officer. He said victims are told the person is coming to install a new “GPS meter”—something that doesn’t exist.