Police report uptick in phone scammers pretending to be DTE Energy

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 13, 2018

ROCHESTER — DTE Energy and local police are alerting the public to a trending phone scam in which crooks posing as DTE employees demand money for supposedly overdue utility bills.

DTE Chief Security Officer Michael Lynch said it’s the latest resurgence of a scam that cost DTE customers more than $120,000 last year, based on over 200 reported incidents.

“And that’s just the ones that we know about,” Lynch said.

The criminals are targeting residents and business owners, saying they have overdue payments owed. The scammers then threaten to cut off the power unless a specified amount of money, typically in the form of prepaid gift cards, is paid to DTE Energy immediately.

“It’s a sophisticated operation,” Lynch said.

With some calls showing up as DTE on a caller ID, Lynch said, customers are easily tricked. Utility impostors have even resorted to using callback numbers that answer with a recorded greeting like the one on DTE’s actual customer service line.

“You might not realize you’ve been scammed until the next time you get your bill,” Lynch said.

This scenario has been going on across the country for a couple of years now.

“It’s been fairly consistent because there is more than one person doing it,” said Lynch.

The worst reported case in Michigan thus far, according to Lynch, happened last month to a business in Farmington Hills.

“In this case, it was an auto repair business that got the same call, and the bad guy convinced the owner to get 39 cards totaling $19,000,” he said.

Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said city residents and business owners have also recently reported the phone scam.

“People are pretending to be DTE and are threatening to cut your service off, and they are trying to get information from you,” said Schettenhelm. “In some cases, they are asking for a credit card number to pay off a balance.”

What makes it even harder now, Schettenhelm said, is that scammers can make their calls look local, even when they aren’t.

“We are more likely to answer calls because it looks like a 248 area code, so we think it’s a local call, but it really isn’t,” he said.

Schettenhelm said similar local scams also spoof caller ID and claim to be the IRS or other credible sources.

“We have received calls about this and other types of scams. This time of year, it is not uncommon to be hearing about unemployment insurance or tax fraud,” he said.

In any case, DTE and police officials said customers can stay vigilant by verifying all information before making any payments over the phone.

Lynch said DTE Energy does not call customers for payment if the account is in good standing, noting that DTE would never ask customers to provide their account numbers. If a customer is behind on payments, he said, DTE Energy will first mail a warning notice providing the steps to restore the account and continue service. Lynch also noted that DTE Energy does not ever demand a specific form of payment, so if a caller insists on payment via a prepaid debit card — especially a specific brand of prepaid card — it is a scam.

People who suspect that a call may be fraudulent should hang up and call DTE toll-free at (800) 477-4747 and ask to be connected to a customer service representative who can confirm the status of the person’s account.

People who suspect that they have been a victim of fraud should contact their local police department immediately. Rochester residents and business owners can contact Rochester police at (248) 651-9621.