Scammers impersonating utility bill collectors target Twin Cities

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

A Plymouth restaurant lost $1,000 after a caller claiming to be from Xcel Energy threatened to cut off power if an outstanding bill wasn’t paid.

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uberliberalNov. 1, 1310:37 PM

As reprehensible as this kind of scam is, I am amazed that it ever works. First of all, you know whether or not you owe the utility company money. Are there that many people out there who are behind on their bills? And second of all, it has been drilled into us for nearly a generation that you don't send money to any old yahoo who has your phone number and that you never, ever give out your credit card information over the phone. You call the company and work it out through customer service. I feel very bad for the victims who have been taken to the cleaners. But I just can't grasp how these things have any success, ever.

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twinkie1Nov. 1, 1310:40 PM

Nigerian Scammers have heard that "there is a Sucker born every minute," in Minnesota.

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mnnice33Nov. 2, 13 6:41 AM

While I would normally agree with the two comments about buyer be aware our son's small business was the victim of the same Excel scam this spring. What is not reported is how SOPHISTICATED these scammers are. He called Excel Energy at two different phone numbers one listed on their billings and one on their web site to verify that his bill was current as his records indicated. What he learned after the whole affair was that the scammers had somehow tapped into the Excel phone lines for calls from his business number. The people who answered the phone who he THOUGHT were from Excel were he believes actually the scammers who were able to intercept his call somehow. They told him they could not verify his account was current and gave him the run around over multiple calls to two different contact nubmers at Excel. One can only assume the scammers somehow had inside access at Excel. I got involved afterwards and reported this to several agents at Excel one of whom eventually took a great interest in what I informed her had happened. Then all of the sudden all communication from Excel was shut off once I informed her of the fact we believed someone had gained access to their phone numbers. That same person at Excel would not answer phone calls or emails after indicating she would take this new information "up the ladder" with the right people at Excel. It was like she disappeared from the face of the earth. Yes it sounds logical not to believe a scam like this but when faced with the possibility of having your business shut down and doing everything you can to check out the reliability of the caller you do funny things.

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snickelodeonNov. 2, 13 6:42 AM

Put some of the blame on XCel here: Its own collection tactics are so heavy handed and reprehensible that it makes these scammers seem credible. That includes XCel's practice of selling consumer debt to third-party collectors like Asset Acceptance, which last year was fined $2.5 million by the FTC for misrepresentation and deceiving consumers. I can't even recall how many threatening letters and phone calls I received from Asset Acceptance, who was provided with my information -- wrong information, for debt I did not owe -- by Xcel. Thanks, Xcel. I think I'd rather deal with this latest crop of scammers than the guys you were selling old, "bad" debts to. At least these scammers would probably stop calling after I hung up a few times, as opposed to the bottom-feeders who you find to harass and threaten customers (including dead ones -- and their grieving families -- who are also targeted by your surrogates).

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nomedsNov. 2, 13 6:55 AM

Don't people receive utility bills either through the mail or email and what do they do with those bills and don't they keep records of them and payments? If they are a business, they need those records for tax purposes. People and businesses need to be responsible.

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swmnguyNov. 2, 13 9:11 AM

"snickelodeon" raises an excellent point. Many companies sell the right to collect debts to collectors who make the Mob look ethical. I had a collector after me for debt I did not owe, and when I called the original company (This was MCI, back when they existed) and said I had some shady collector scamming me, they immediately stopped talking to me and wouldn't even look at my bill. I had a family member who is an attorney call them, and then they were willing to look and see I didn't owe them anything and rein in the thumb-breakers.

Right now I have Ocwen trying to get me to respond to them about a second mortgage taken out on my house by the guy who owned it two owners ago. The guy is dead; he was murdered walking into a pawn shop in Richfield 4 years ago, a full 2 years after his/my house was foreclosed upon. So Ocwen has no asset to collect. But they are still trying to trick me into acknowledging them in some way so they can get something.

The line between outright criminal fraudster scammers and the nearly-unregulated (but "lawful!") collection industry is a fine one indeed.

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railroadNov. 2, 1311:12 AM

I got one of these calls and hung up... They called back and I hung up again. Pay my bills on line and I know what I owe...

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