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Utility, postal service scams reported in Minnesota

Minnesotans are warned to be vigilant of scams as reports of fraudulent contact with U.S. Postal Service and utility company customers rise throughout the state.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported several customers in the Twin Cities and surrounding area received emails stating that USPS had attempted to deliver a package but were unable to do so. The emails usually instruct customers to click a link to print a delivery label in order to pick up their package from the post office.

When the recipient clicks the link, their computer is attacked by a malicious virus which logs keystrokes that can obtain personal and account information.

The USPS does not use this method to notify customers of packages and urges anyone who receives these messages to forward them to and delete the email. Customers with questions are encouraged to call 800-ASK-USPS.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota also reported a long-running scam throughout the United States and Canada targeting utility customers, causing victims thousands of dollars worth of loss.

According to the BBB, scammers contact utility customers by phone, email billing or door-to-door visits falsely identifying themselves as utility representatives. They then inform the customer the household has an unpaid bill and utilities will be turned off if it is not paid, usually in a short timeframe.

Scammers have even duplicated utilities' telephone messages and automated response systems, so when customers call phone numbers provided by the scammer it sounds legitimate. Some of these scammers also use caller ID spoofing to replicate utilities' customer service numbers.

"Like most scams, it plays on people's fears and has proven to be quite effective, unfortunately," Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

To combat these scams, BBB and utility companies throughout Minnesota are participating in the first national Utilities United Against Scams event, which started Wednesday.

This weeklong campaign focuses on exposing tricks scammers use to steal money and helping customers protect themselves.

Captain Gordon Rohr with the Red Wing police said his department has in the past received complaints about scams in which callers identify themselves as an Internal Revenue Service agent.

“The safest thing is, if you don’t know who’s calling, don’t give them any information at all,” he Rohr said. “Don’t give them your full name, don’t give your date of birth, don’t give you social security or bank account numbers, don’t give them anything like that.”

Most of the scams Red Wing police receive complaints come from overseas callers, who are harder for law enforcement to track or cite.

“Just be highly suspicious of anyone calling to get personal information or saying you owe money or won money, won a trip or anything along those lines,” Rohr said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

Red flags:

• The scammer tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn't made, usually within less than an hour.

• The scammer instruct the customer to purchase a prepaid debit or credit card available at retail stores. The customer is then told to make a payment with the card.

How to protect yourself:

• Utilities never ask or require a customer with a past due account to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection.

• Customers with past due accounts receive an advance disconnection notification by mail, not a single notification one hour before disconnection.

• Know which utility providers serve you.

• If you suspect someone is trying to scam you, hang up and call your utility at the phone number listed on your bill and report it to the BBB. Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.

• Customers, who suspect or experience fraud, or feel threatened during contact with one of these scams, should contact local authorities.