Reported efforts to rip off consumers have been picking up in recent weeks, prompting Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative to remind its members to be cautious about giving out personal information over the phone and be alert for scammers posing as cooperative employees.

Claims of incorrect meter readings and citing invalid checks are among the recent scams reported taking place in Colorado and Nebraska. Nebraska’s Howard Greeley Rural Public Power District wrote on its Facebook page recently that some residents “have been getting calls that the meter reading has been wrong for a few months and that they need your address to send you a check.”

While there have been no recently reported scams in the OTEC service territory, cooperative officials urge members to remain vigilant. “We want OTEC members to know about possible scams,” said Sandra Ghormley, OTEC’s director of member and program services. “Play it safe and always contact OTEC directly if you are not sure.”

That’s sound advice. In Colorado, La Plata Electric Association says someone claiming to be from the co-op is calling members, saying the payment check they sent wasn’t valid and they need to give a credit or debit card on the spot to keep the lights on.

Ghormley said there are times a cooperative member could receive a call from an OTEC member services representative. She said MSRs will call members with past-due accounts to give a final due date, to schedule payment arrangements or to advise about payment issues. Ghormley noted that OTECdoes not make phone calls demanding immediate payment over the phone, nor does it regularly disconnect power outside of normal business hours or on weekends.

“Don’t give out credit card numbers and personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or are sure you know who you’re dealing with,” she said.

Because OTEC does sometimes contact members by phone, it can be difficult to tell a scammer from a member representative. Here are some tips for spotting a scam:

  • If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card, this is a red flag.
  • If you feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your bill. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative.
  • Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or reported a problem. Also, ask employees for proper identification.