Scam artists are targeting Flathead County. They’re posing as electric company employees and have been calling businesses threatening to shut off power within a couple of hours. They claim to have a disconnect crew on the way to shut off the electric if they don’t receive a payment right away.
They are requesting the payment in the form of a pre-paid credit card or through PayPal, and are calling restaurants during busy times to catch them off-guard.
Officials say it is not a new problem and that it happens around the world. However, in the past scam artists used to target elderly people. Now, they have moved on to businesses and it's happening in the Flathead.
"She [an employee] received a call at 7 p.m., which is when our busiest time is, from a Brian Lee with his badge number. He said that he was with Flathead Electric and that they were on the way to disconnect our power," said Julie Smith.
Smith owns the Tree Frog Tavern in downtown Kalispell. One of her employees was ordered to give the person on the phone a chunk of money.
"First thing I did was call Flathead Electric to ask if this was indeed true. They said ‘Oh no, it is not true, we don't do that, that way’" Smith said.
Smith knew she paid her bills on time. She even showed NBC Montana check stubs to prove it.
"The concern, for me, was that they knew exactly the last payment that I made to Flathead Electric on three different accounts,” said Smith.
She usually makes her payments over the phone and is worried that people are eavesdropping and obtaining personal information.
Law enforcement officials are still investigating the situation, and even though they weren't able to trace the exact number they have reason to believe it came from out of the country.
"Usually the scam artists aren't local, sometimes they're even out of the country ,so it would be really hard for us to identify who the culprits are," said Kalispell Police Officer Karen Webster.
That’s the case here. When Smith called the number back she got the answering machine.
“The voice that was on the message was a foreign accent,” said Smith.
NBC Montana called that number and heard the voicemail. It did sound like someone from another country. The recording answers as Rocky Mountain Collection Company.
Flathead Electric says situations like this are popping up more and more.
“This used to be an occasional situation, but now we are finding it to be almost a regular course,” said Wendy Ostrom-Price from Flathead Electric.
Now that it is happening the Flathead, Smith is appalled.
“I think these people are despicable and it’s theft,” Smith said.
Flathead Electric and law enforcement are encouraging people that if they have any doubt with a payment or phone call they should contact authorities immediately.