Bluebonnet members have recently been targeted by people falsely claiming to be co-op employees or contractors attempting to trick them into making payments for supposedly delinquent accounts by using prepaid money cards, such as MoneyPak cards that can be bought at Wal-Mart, Walgreens and CVS/pharmacy.
The scam has targeted Spanish-speaking members with residential and commercial accounts, primarily in Bastrop and surrounding areas.
“We take very seriously any attempts to defraud our members,” said Mark Rose, Bluebonnet’s general manager. “We do all we can to prevent it from happening and will assist law enforcement to catch and prosecute anyone who scams our members.”
Bluebonnet is working with the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office, which is handling the case.
But it’s not just Bluebonnet members who are the targets of fraudulent phone calls.
Austin Energy, Austin’s city-owned utility, reported its customers have been called by people telling them their accounts are overdue and their service is about to be disconnected. Austin Energy reported the scammers are asking its customers for credit card information or suggesting they buy prepaid money cards and call back with the card’s number.
We want our members to be aware of our procedures in order to protect themselves from fraud. Our process for working with members with delinquent accounts is clear and consistent. We make at least two attempts to contact our members – by mail and by courtesy call – within two weeks of a delinquent payment’s due date to offer payment options using a debit or credit card.
The reported calls made by people falsely claiming to be Bluebonnet employees or contractors showed on caller ID as out-of-state area codes and phone numbers.
“These cases are extremely difficult to investigate,” said Russell Abel, Bastrop County Sheriff’s investigator. “One of the reasons why is because the crime often occurs across state lines. Any time you end up with multiple jurisdictions it’s harder to investigate.”
If you have not received a reminder in the mail or a courtesy call about your account and someone claiming to be from Bluebonnet calls from an out-of-state phone number and tells you to pay your bill through a third-party company, do not pay.
“Bluebonnet’s employees never call members from out-of-state phone numbers,” Rose said. “And while our members can pay their bills at third-party locations, like H-E-B or Wal-Mart, we never specifically tell them to make payments at those locations.”
The most secure way to make a payment is directly with Bluebonnet, through our member services number, 800-842-7708, or at one of our five member service centers in Bastrop, Brenham, Giddings, Lockhart or Manor.
If you suspect you’re talking to someone falsely claiming to be from Bluebonnet, try to get as much information about the caller as possible, including the phone number from which he or she is calling by caller ID, and immediately call a member service representative at 800-842-7708 between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or local law enforcement as soon as possible.
If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be a Bluebonnet employee or contractor asking for account information or for a payment on your account, do not give them any information. Call that same member services number to verify you are talking to a Bluebonnet employee or to report any suspicious activity.
Bluebonnet follows policies to protect account information when helping members over the phone. Our member service representatives in the call center verify that the member they are talking to is on the account and then requires two personal identifiers, such as driver license number and Social Security number, before providing any account information.
“If something sounds odd on the phone, then people should do their own investigation,” Abel said. “If someone calls you asking for money claiming to be a creditor, find out as much about the caller as possible. Then call a number you know is good for that creditor and ask if the call was legitimate.
“I have never heard of a legitimate creditor asking you to go to a Wal-Mart or someplace else to get a MoneyPak card to make a payment, or to wire money through Western Union. That should be a signal that something is not right.”
Abel said the crime being committed is theft by deception. If the theft is under $1,500, it’s a misdemeanor; over $1,500 is a felony. The punishment depends on the misdemeanor class and felony degree, which also depends on the amount stolen. Penalties become more severe as the dollar amount stolen increases.