Hispanics in Wisconsin are being targeted by scammers claiming to be from power companies telling them if they don't pay, their electricity will be cut off, authorities say.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) issued a warning on Tuesday about such calls and asking anyone who gets one to contact authorities.

"These scammers will say you are months behind on your utility bills and must pay at once," said Sandy Chalmers of DATCP in the release. "If these scammers call, do not engage them (in a conversation). Hang up immediately."

Hispanic utility customers appear to be the main target group of the scammers.

During the past week, DATCP had six complaints from Hispanics in the Green Bay area alone.

The scam works like this:

  • The caller tells the customer of a past due balance or a broken meter.
  • The customer is told to get a prepaid, reloadable debit card and load from $200 to $1,000 onto it, then call the scammer with the card and PIN number so the "unpaid balance" can be paid.
  • Some scammers want a wire transfer instead of a prepaid card number for payment.
  • Customers are told if payment isn't made by a specific time, sometimes within an hour, power will be shut off.
  • Scammers are "spoofing" their own phone numbers so the real utility company name pops up on caller ID at the victim's home.

If you get called by a scammer about an unpaid utility bill, hang up, call your utility company to verify your account balance and to report the scam call, file a report with police and call DATCP's hotline,  800-422-7128.

Bill Novak is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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