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Target of scam artist...The One Stop Burger Shop in Kenmare was the target of a telephone scam last Monday (April 14). Owner Penny Sigloh reported a man claiming to be an MDU employee would cut off electricity if she didn't make a $2,000 payment within 30 minutes. Three days later the same man called Sigloh's men's clothing store also called One Stop.
By Marvin Baker
A Kenmare business owner was twice the target of a telephone scam last week.
One Stop Burger Shop owner Penny Sigloh said she was contacted Monday by a man claiming to be a Montana-Dakota Utilities employee. He told her the electricity bill was past due and if she didn’t wire him approximately $2,000, her power would be shut off in 30 minutes.
“My first reaction was anger,” Sigloh said. ‘This happened at noon and I’m running a restaurant business.”
Sigloh told The Kenmare News that after she began to carry out the instructions, several red flags began to surface, then she realized it was a bogus request.
In her telephone conversation, she told the man it was the wrong time of day to shut off power since the Burger Shop is a busy place during the noon hour. He told her he could hold off for 30 minutes maximum.
Another indicator is she told him that she would proceed to an MDU office in Minot to pay her bill and he began to stumble for the right words in order to react.
Third, she realized through caller ID that the man was calling from outside North Dakota and was using one of three Utah area codes.
“He sounded legitimate,” Sigloh said. “I thought I was talking to MDU.”
The man, reported to have an East Indian or Pakistani accent, called again on Thursday.
Sigloh said she immediately recognized his voice and he obviously didn’t remember he was talking to the same person as he provided essentially the same pitch to obtain money.
When Sigloh asked the man for his name and telephone number before agreeing to anything, he hung up.
The telephone number, 801-822-0333, has been traced to Provo, Utah exchange, but is actually a business called Y Max Communications in West Palm Beach, Fla.
A request has been turned in to the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Provo Police Department for additional information.
MDU Public Affairs Director Mark Hanson said MDU doesn’t have any employees or operations anywhere in the state of Utah.
“Our credit and collection office is based in Bismarck and the number would appear as a toll free number on caller ID,” Hanson said. “And, we don’t shut power off immediately.”
According to Sigloh, she had recently paid her Burger Shop electricity bill, but kept thinking that it may have been applied to the wrong account as she operates separate men’s and women’s clothing stores in Kenmare.
She said human error is certainly possible and that is what prompted her, in the first place, to begin the process of following along with the man’s instructions.
According to Hanson, there are a couple of things to consider with past due bills, or if there may have been an error in applying the payment.
“If we call you, we’ll have your account information and will never insist on using a prepaid debit card,” Hanson said. “If a customer is at a point of disconnect, we will first send a letter by U.S. mail, then go to the business or residence and we will produce identification. An instant shut off will not happen.”
Hanson added that if a customer isn’t sure, as in Sigloh’s situation in which she thought money was misapplied, “hang up and call us. You’ll know then that you are dealing with us.”
According to Hanson, MDU has been the “identifier” in other scams, but it is not limited to MDU. He said scam artists will call identifying themselves as being from other companies such as Xcel Energy or Otter Tail Power.
“This kind of stuff has been going on at least a year on several forms and levels,” Hanson said. “We have information about it on our home page (www.montana-dakota.com), but it’s not just telephone, e-mails are sent too.”
Hanson said MDU has made its best attempt to notify customers of the scam by sending out fliers in monthly statements, putting inserts in local newspapers and bolding the information on the MDU website.
He said this sort of thing will normally occur in a larger community, but occasionally an individual in a smaller community will be the target.
“These callers don’t have all the information. They just use names of businesses,” Hanson said. “We will have your account number and will never insist on immediate payment. This is just another way of somebody trying to take advantage of people.”
Sigloh said she has been telling everyone she meets that this scam artist is apparently now working the Kenmare telephone exchange.
Her advice is if anyone gets a similar call, ask questions right away, don’t be so trusting, hang up and call the police or the power company.
“I almost did this,” she said. “I can see it happening to someone else."... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!