Scam targets small businesses in Madison

MADISON (WKOW) — Madison Gas and Electric is warning of a spike in scams they say are targeting small businesses. A caller will claim to be from the utility company and tell customers their bills are overdue. Then they’ll tell customers if they don’t get payment in an hour, they’ll shut off your utilities.

According to MG&E spokesman, Steve Schultz, the company sees these scams coming in waves and this past week there has been a spike.

"It tends to be business customers that are targeted, typically small business customers that are targeted," he said.

According to Schultz in one day, MG&E got more than 100 customer calls reporting the scam. One of those customers was Lyschelle Bersch.

The owner of Karner Blue Candle and Supply on Monroe Street said her brick and mortar location has had a slow summer due to construction, so she already had a lot on her mind when she got that threatening call.

"I got a call from a guy, he was saying he was from Alliant Energy Center and that there was a man on the way and that were going to be disconnected, that this was a courtesy call, that we were going to be disconnected within an hour," she said.

Bersch said the call made her nervous at first, as she had only recently sent in her payment but she noticed a few things seemed off.

"We have MG&E and I did say that and he’s like, ‘Oh, we’re working together,’" she said.

Bersch said the caller gave her a phone number and told her she had to call it to resolve the situation. Instead, Bersch said she looked up the number for MG&E and called to verify what she had heard.

Schultz said that’s the best way to deal with this sort of situation.

He said MG&E would never give homeowners and businesses an hour’s notice if they were behind on payment. He said anyone in danger of losing their utilities would have received multiple calls and letters about late payments so customers should be suspicious of anything that appears to be out of the blue.

He also said scammers will often request payment through pre-paid cards, which MG&E would never do.

After Bersch heard the scam was targeting local businesses, she said she asked around on Monroe Street. A number of them have also received and reported these calls so Bersch said she wanted to spread the word.

"Doing things like that, hurting us, could put us under really quickly, really easily," she said.

Schultz said every year people do get caught up in these scams as the calls can be sophisticated and convincing. He said if that happens, there’s no way to get that money back because it’s so difficult to find out where these calls are coming from.

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