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Commerce Department warns utility customers to protect accounts, personal information

May 24, 2012


For Immediate Release

ST. PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce and Alliant Energy are teaming up to warn consumers about a recent scam targeting utility customers throughout the Midwest. Alliant Energy customers in Wisconsin and Iowa have received calls from individuals impersonating Alliant representatives. The callers then claim a customer’s account is delinquent and demand immediate, full payment to avoid immediate disconnection.

“Before you turn over a dime or any personal information to an unidentified person at the door or on the phone, hang up and call your utility directly,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “When dealing with your personal financial information, it is imperative that you verify the identity of the utility representative and know your rights when settling a debt.”

Not all callers are scam artists. Alliant Energy and other Minnesota utilities do work with customers over the phone to set payment arrangements for delinquent accounts. However, Alliant representatives already have customer account information and will work with the customer to arrange payment through a regular payment channel. Alliant Energy does not collect payments in person at a customer’s home or place of business.

“We already know account details about our customers, and when customers fall behind we work collaboratively with them to establish mutually acceptable payment arrangements,” said Tim Heinrich, Director of Customer Support Services for Alliant Energy. “If a customer has any concerns about calls claiming to come from Alliant Energy, they should simply hang up and call us at 1-800-ALLIANT.”

Alliant Energy provides gas and electric utility services to more than 91,000 Minnesota customers in 25 southern Minnesota counties.

Any utility customer who suspects they may be a victim of this or a similar debt collection scam is encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce to file a complaint. You can reach the Commerce Department by calling (651) 296-2488 or (800) 657-3602 or by emailing consumer.protection@state.mn.us. Consumers may also file a complaint with the Consumer Affairs Office of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by calling (651) 296-0406.


KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

In light of these developments, Commissioner Rothman encourages all Minnesotans to know their rights when settling a debt. The Department of Commerce offers these helpful tips to help Minnesotans avoid becoming victims of debt collection scams:

  • Call us first. Do not send money to a “debt collector” you think may be perpetrating a fraud – call the Department of Commerce to see if the person is, in fact, a licensed debt collector.

  • Protect your identity. Do not give away or verify any of your personal financial information.

  • Protect your money. Ask your bank to put an “alert” on your account (often these scammers have a consumer’s bank account information before they begin harassing them).

  • Avoid phony calls. Be wary if the debt cannot be verified or if no documentation is received. At that point, ask the callers to stop contacting you and register with the National Do Not Call Registry at www.DoNotCall.gov or 888-382-1222.

  • Contest errors. If no debt is confirmed, contact any involved parties to clear up inaccuracies on your credit report, such as: the debt collector; the creditor or company claiming unresolved accounts; and the major credit bureaus. Write a detailed letter and include supporting documents to prove your case. The Federal Trade Commission provides additional resources for reporting errors.

  • Know your rights. Review the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which sets standards for collection agencies and prohibits abusive tactics. The FDCPA is enforced by the FTC and violations should be reported. Know that debt collectors: May not make false or deceptive claims; are not allowed to make idle threats, express or implied, or use abusive or profane language; should not discuss consumers' accounts with unauthorized third parties; may not inaccurately report credit information or pressure consumers to pay debts they do not owe; and must investigate the validity of a dispute over a debt.