Co-op Month | Cyber Breach | Weather Repairs | Scammers


Co-op Month Recognized

Governor Scott Walker followed the tradition of his predecessors September 5, issuing an official proclamation designating October as Cooperative Month in Wisconsin.

The annual observance recognizes that Wisconsin, in 1887, was among the earliest states to enact legislation authorizing the formation of cooperatives and spelling out their business structure, rights, duties, and obligations. Co-op Month has been celebrated nationally since 1964.

Walker’s proclamation notes that Wisconsin cooperatives meet a wide range of essential needs, including marketing and purchasing of agricultural products, providing financial, electric, communications, and cable services, health care, insurance, housing, and food.

Approximately 700 cooperatives currently serve their member-owners in Wisconsin, the proclamation noted.

Utility ID’d in Cyber Breach

Federal regulators have reluctantly revealed San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) as the utility fined almost $3 million for—as The Wall Street Journal reported—“losing control of a database with confidential information about its systems and leaving it exposed on the internet for 70 days.”

The incident occurred in 2016. The fine was levied in May, at just $2.7 million compared with the potential penalty of as much as $140 million, the Journal reported.

PG&E was identified only late this summer after an organization called the Secure the Grid Coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking disclosure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which had previously resisted releasing the penalized utility’s name.

The Journal quoted a written statement from PG&E calling its cybersecurity practices “robust and consistent with the best practices being employed in the industry.”

The Journal’s report said PG&E’s error resulted in some 30,000 records concerning the company’s cyber assets being exposed to the internet without password protection “at a time when authorities have said Russian agents were trying to gain access to U.S. energy companies.”

Co-ops Pitch in for Weather Repairs

The electric cooperatives’ ROPE (Restoration of Power in an Emergency) mutual assistance program was activated when heavy rains and tornadoes—since estimated to have inflicted a quarter-billion dollars in damage—cut a swath across Wisconsin from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan at the end of August.

Turning out to help get power back on for members of other co-ops were line crews from Iowa’s Allamakee-Clayton Electric, MiEnergy Cooperative (a two-state co-op based in Iowa and Minnesota), Central Wisconsin Electric, Eau Claire Energy, Dairyland Power, Riverland Energy, Rock Energy, and Taylor Electric.

Scammers at Work Again

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) said its Consumer Protection Hotline received more than two dozen reports in a single 24-hour period from Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) customers complaining about fake utility representatives attempting to extort payments by threatening interruption of service.

DATCP said it also received reports late this summer about impostor WE Energies calls. “Regardless of your utility provider, if you receive a similar threatening call about your home or business utility account, hang up and do not engage the caller,” the agency advised.

Fake callers using the threat of disconnection are not unfamiliar, but DATCP warned that some scammers have been trying to appear more credible by mentioning work order numbers, truck numbers, or phone numbers. Consumers also need to be aware that scammers can manipulate caller ID to show the local utility company’s real name or phone number, DATCP advised.

The department said a utility may contact consumers by phone if disconnection is imminent, but none will ever demand immediate payment via a telephone transaction. Demanding payment by prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer is a sure indicator of a scam.