WAUKESHA- According to a Department of
Justice crime alert, the number of pre-paid debit card
scam attempts targeting We Energies customers in 2015 is
over 700. Losses have accounted for $18,000 this year.
“This scam is nothing new. We had reports
of this scam since 2012 and it comes in waves,”said
Cathy Schulze, We Energies spokeswoman.
This month We Energies has had 80
customers report fraud activity. Schulze said luckily
only two people fell victim and lost money, but one
person is too many.
“The victim rate is low because we have
done so much to raise awareness among customers,” she
The company has done social media
postings on Facebook and Twitter. A warning was also put
on the electric company’s website.
“The first thing people see when they log
on to pay a bill is the warning,”she said.
To raise awareness, We Energies officials
have talked with local law enforcement and the FBI,
Better Business Bureau, and Wisconsin Department of
Agriculture Trading and Consumer Protection. When the
pre-paid card scam picked up steam, We Energies provided
bill inserts in the mail.
Schulze said the scammers seemed to
target Spanish-speaking customers for awhile.
“We did lots of communication early to
raise awareness. We also did bilingual communications to
Spanish radio stations and community centers,” she said.
She said they reached out to their
corporate partners to be another line of defense, which
has worked out well. They worked with Roundy’s Corporate
Security so that they could raise awareness for their
supermarkets. Their cashiers were trained to be on the
lookout for people who were suddenly buying pre-paid
debit cards in mass amounts.They would ask a customer
why they were purchasing all these pre-paid cards and
inform them of the scam.
“It was being alert and quick thinking
that helped them stop people for buying cards,” Schulze
The scammers threaten people with
disconnection if they don’t send a certain amount of
money via pre-paid cards. Schulze said, however, that
people actually at risk for disconnection would be aware
of it well before it happened.
“We would send a bill and notes in the
mail. We would never make threatening calls saying we
had a truck around the corner that would shut them off
if they didn’t give us pre-paid cards, “ she said.
She said a caller indicating a truck
should be a red flag. The caller should hang up and call
We Energies directly to confirm account status, she
The scam originally started with
residential customers. Schulze said scammers have gone
through trends such as going after business customers.
Certain businesses like nail salons, auto body shops and
restaurants have been targeted.
“The scams will die down and then pick
back up. We don’t know how they decide or what database
they use. They have even targeted pet kennels and vet
clinics,” she said.
She said residents are more inclined to
know what they owe. The problem with restaurants is when
a person answers who isn’t in charge of the bills. If he
or she is in the middle of the dinner rush it creates
confusion and panic, she said.
It is suspected some scammers are from
call centers overseas. Schulze reported a successful
case in Elm Grove, where police tracked down a scammer
who lived in Florida. He was charged and sentenced in
Wisconsin for his crimes.
She said if you are concerned about your
bill or experience a suspicious activity, call We
Energies at 800-242-9137.