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August 8, 2014

BISMARCK, ND – Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is alerting North Dakota residents about yet another phishing scam. The consumer protection division was notified that local customers of Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Minot have received phone messages claiming there is an unpaid balance due and services would be disconnected unless payment was made immediately.

“This scam is yet another blatant attempt by thieves to steal consumers’ credit card numbers and personal information,” Stenehjem said. “The scam artists hope that the victim will be so upset by the threat of disconnection that they will pull out a bank card or credit card to pay the supposed overdue bill immediately,” Stenehjem continued.

Once the scam artist has the bank account or credit card information, they can empty the account, make fraudulent charges to the credit card, or steal the victim’s financial identity for personal gain.

Verendrye Electric Cooperative has placed a warning on its website and issued a news release, but Stenehjem warns North Dakota residents that in the past when warnings have issued, the scam artists just pick a different business name so they can continue to use the scam. That is exactly what happened over several months in 2012 and 2013, when thousands of North Dakotans received phone messages supposedly from a financial institution, claiming that there was a problem with their account and instructing them to enter the bank account or credit card number in order to “unlock” the account. As warnings were issued, the scam artists just picked the name of a different financial institution and continued leaving the phony messages.

Scam artists use random dialer equipment, which is why even people whose numbers are on the Do Not Call list get called. Unfortunately, as the calls originate outside of North Dakota, it puts them beyond the reach of state and local law enforcement agencies. Stenehjem reminds consumers:

If you receive a call or recorded message claiming that your account is past due, do not return the call; instead, call the customer service number listed on the company’s letter head or its website to check the status of your account.
Do not provide personal or financial account information over the telephone unless you initiated the call and you are sure it is a legitimate company.

Residents who have provided bank account or credit card information in response to these phony messages should contact their bank or credit card issuer immediately.

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