Utility, charity scams reported

Scammers are at it again.

If there are illegal and immoral ways to separate good people from their hard-earned money, you’ll find scammers there in the thick of it.

Two of the most recent scams are utility disconnections and, naturally, the Boston Marathon bombings.

These scammers have no shame.

According to Wisconsin Public Service, scammers posing as utility company employees have been contacting small businesses and residential energy customers sporadically in a scam that gained widespread notoriety last year as victims surfaced across the country.

Here’s the scam: Someone calls customers requesting money for “delinquent accounts,” advising that utility payments had not been received.

Customers were told that their power would be disconnected immediately, but they were given an hour or two to make payment to avoid the disconnection.

A Green Bay area customer has contacted police and indicated they had fallen for the scam.

A major red flag in this scam is that customers were told to purchase prepaid debit cards and then call back to make payment.

Another version is the customer is told to assemble the cash for pickup. Wisconsin Public Service will never provide these instructions for making payment on an account, officials said.

Threats of immediate disconnection are a sign that customers might have been contacted by a scammer. To confirm suspicions, customers should follow these tips and report the behavior:

– Calmly write down any information the caller provides to you. Take note of the call date and time, caller ID, a description of the caller and any details revealed to you by the caller.

– Do not provide any private information or banking information.

– Contact your utility to verify this was a legitimate call.

– If not, call the police to report the scam.

Customers who may have been scammed in this fashion should contact the police, Wisconsin Public Service officials said.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen also warns residents about charitable scams related to Boston Marathon tragedy.

Almost immediately after the bombings on Monday, more than a hundred new website domain names were registered, signaling the possibility of numerous fraudulent charitable schemes, Van Hollen said.

Not only can fraudulent websites divert money intended for victims, but they also can be used to spread malware to donors’ computers.

Apart from phony websites, fraudulent solicitations also can be made through telephone calls, text messages, or through social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

“I applaud the generosity of Wisconsin residents and I urge them to continue donating and supporting the victims of these horrific crimes,” Van Hollen said. “However, to ensure that donations actually benefit the victims, as opposed to enriching fraudsters, I also encourage donors to ensure they are giving to a legitimate charity.”

Here are some tips for avoiding fraudulent charity schemes:

– Ask for the name and location of the company that is soliciting you, and ask what percent of donations they keep for themselves. If they won’t tell you, that is a good reason not to donate.

– Stick to established, known legitimate charities and beware of brand new entities with no track record. Do not be misled by copycat names that are similar to those of legitimate, established charities, and be suspicious of websites that do not list an address and telephone number for the charity.

– If you do not recognize the charity, research before you give. If you cannot confirm the charity is legitimate, don’t donate. There are resources available for investigating a charity, particularly on the Internet. One such site is www.bbb.org/us/charity/ You can also find out whether a charity is registered, as required by law, on the website of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, at dsps.wi.gov/Online-Services/License-Look-Up

– If you are solicited by telephone, ask for a statement in writing and then pay by check-not by cash or by giving your credit card number over the phone. Be wary of providing your credit card number online unless you know the website belongs to a legitimate charity.

– Request written information about the charity before you make a decision. Legitimate charities generally will provide such information. Phony charities usually will not.

Anyone with information about a suspicious charity is urged to contact the consumer protection unit of the Wisconsin Department of Justice at 608-266-1852 or 1-800-998-0700.