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Echo Press Editorial: ‘Hello, I’m from your power company’

Right during National Consumer Protection Week (March 2-8), a Barrett resident received a call from a woman claiming to be from her electric company.

When asked “What electric company?” the caller said, “You know, YOUR electric company.”

Then the caller went on to say that a check recently mailed to the electric company wasn’t signed. The resident, who was a Runestone Electric Association (REA) member, was told by the caller that if she didn’t provide a credit card number right now over the phone, her power would be shut off immediately.

The whole thing, of course, was a scam. Sue Lundeen, manager of REA member services, emphasized that under no circumstances would REA call a member and threaten to disconnect their power if a check is not signed.

Thankfully, the REA member didn’t fall for the scam but the incident shows just how creatively pushy these scammers are getting to be.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) points out that although there’s no way – short of disconnecting your phone – to protect yourself completely from phone scams, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming the next victim. It offers the following advice:

Don’t panic. If the calls are abusive or if the callers threaten you with arrest, stay calm. Keep in mind that scammers are hoping that you’ll pay them off quickly just to make the matter go away. Always get verification of any alleged debts in writing. Remember, legitimate collection agents cannot threaten you with arrest, and even if you owe a debt, you still have rights through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Never give out any financial information, such as your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone.

Be realistic. You can’t win a lottery or contest you didn’t enter, and if you have to pay money up-front to receive your “winnings,” you haven’t won anything.

Think about what you’re being told. If a caller claims to be with your bank or your credit card company and wants your account information so they can verify it, they aren’t telling the truth; your bank and your credit card company already have this information.

Listen closely. If the caller uses poor grammar and/or has a heavy accent, be on alert. Many fraudulent calls originate overseas.

Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call or ask the caller to call back later, after you’ve had time to research their claims.

Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses.

Scam artists who use the telephone will try every trick in the book to gain access to your money. They’ll fake being a relative, claim you’ve won millions in a lottery, or prey upon your curiosity or goodwill. Don’t let them get away with it. If they haven’t duped anyone after making 5,000 calls, maybe they’ll realize there are easier ways of making a buck.