When the weather turns cold, scammers hit the phone lines to demand immediate payment with the threat of turning off the power.

Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe said the scammers use this technique to coerce immediate payment.

“Essentially, they call up people and tell them to make immediate payment of their power bill or their power’s going to be shut off in short order,” Larcombe said. “They create this false fear and get them to send them money in the form of a prepaid debit card or a cash card which they will cash and be on their merry way.”

Larcombe said Northwestern Energy is regulated by the Montana Public Service Commission, and has specific rules to follow when dealing with people behind on their bills.

“We do get in contact by mail and by phone,” he said. “However, we never demand immediate payment, that’s never how we operate. Realistically, in the winter months we have to get permission from the Public Service Commission to shut anyone off during the winter months and that’s an added level of protection.”

Larcombe said Northwestern Energy wants to know who is foisting this scam on Montanans.

“They should contact us right away,” he said. “Make note of the number the scammer is calling from and contact our call center at 1-888-467-2669. Get that number, hang up and don’t pay anybody without talking to us.”

That number again is 1-888-467-2669.