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Scammers deluge Bay Area with calls



"You're smart, but we have to try!"

That's what a scammer told his intended victim when the victim caught on that the scammer wasn't really from Xcel Energy, according to the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office.

The con artist threatened to disconnect the Bayfield resident's power, and laughed it off when his intended victim nailed him for his duplicity.

Bayfield County residents have been peppering the Sheriff's Office with reports of callers impersonating Xcel or Social Security representatives over the last few months — and that's just from people who recognized the scams for what they were and made a report.

They no doubt represent the mere tip of the fraudulent-call iceberg, considering that most people who actually fall for the con games are typically too embarrassed to come forward and others simply don't bother contacting authorities.

Chris Ouellette, spokeswoman for Xcel Energy, said scammers impersonating power company representatives target customers all year long, but when the weather turns cold, the threat of losing power takes on greater meaning.

Xcel will never ask a customer to pay using a gift card — as many scammers demand — or threaten to turn off power over the telephone, Ouellette said.

"We're not even legally allowed to turn off power in these months," Ouellette said. State law prohibits disconnecting energy needed to heat residences during winter months.

If someone is behind on payments, Xcel will contact them by mail, and if a customer receives a suspicious phone call from someone asserting they're in arrears, they should hang up and contact the company to review their bill.

"Don't be afraid to give us a call, and we will walk you through it," Ouellette said.

Chequamegon Bay-area residents also have been receiving calls from con artists claiming to represent the Social Security Administration.

These scammers are threatening individuals with arrest or financial penalties if they don't respond to questions, according to Social Security and Sheriff's Office reports.

Social Security employees will never threaten a person or promise benefit approvals or increases in exchange for information or money, the administration said in a news release.

Furthermore, the administration will never say a Social Security number has been suspended, demand immediate payment, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or require a specific means of debt repayment, such as a retail gift card or cash.

Bayfield County Chief Deputy Dan Clark said people who receive suspicious calls are welcome to contact the Sheriff's Office, but there's nothing they can do.

If the Sheriff's Office gets three to four reports about the same type of fraud, it will post a warning on its Facebook page, but recently so many scammers have been burning up phone lines that even the cops haven't been immune.

Clark recounted a call he received himself from a con artist pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service. The scammer threatened to immediately send someone from the Sheriff's Office after Clark.

Clark said, "Go ahead."

The scammer persisted, accusing the chief deputy of not taking the call seriously.

Clark said he was taking it seriously and would put on a pot of coffee for the deputies.

"But I'm sure they're not coming," Clark told the con artist.

Humorous note aside, Clark takes accounts of Bayfield County residents being scammed seriously. The chief deputy advised people to keep an eye on any family members who might be vulnerable to scammers.

Clark knows people have lost tens of thousands of dollars, he said, and one couple handed over their entire life savings to thieves over the phone.

"It's just heartbreaking when it happens," he said.

Police investigating cat shot near Sanborn
Groot on road to recovery

When Joy Wooley's cat Groot didn't return home at his usual time one Thursday night, she began to wonder what could possibly be holding up her wandering pet.

Wooley usually turned Groot free outside at 6:30 a.m. every day to prowl about her 5-acre hobby farm near Sanborn, but the white cat with faint gray streaks on his head would turn up at the door to come inside at about 8 p.m.

On Nov. 7 someone or something had disrupted Groot's schedule.

Wooley finally heard the cat's familiar meow at the door 30 minutes late and opened it exclaiming, "Groot! Where were you ..."

Her words fell away when she saw a gray-and-green carbon fiber arrow with orange

and white flights and field tip protruding from his back.

Wooley frantically called Willow Animal Hospital in Ashland, and veterinarian Parker Robison took Groot under his care.

Wooley said Robison sedated Groot and successfully removed the arrow, but the procedure was dangerous and could very well have proven fatal.

"I thought we were going to lose him," Wooley said.

Instead, Groot emerged alive with a few stitches and a small bald patch where his hair had been shaved off.

Bayfield County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Kastern responded to Wooley's report of the shooting and met her at the animal hospital, where he took the arrow into evidence.

As part of the investigation, Kastern consulted with state Department of Natural Resources Warden Matt Koshollek, who said he did not recognize the arrow but would share the information with fellow wardens.

Contacted by the Daily Press later, Koshollek would not comment further as the investigation — led by the Sheriff's Office — is ongoing.

Wooley has no idea who shot Groot, one of her eight to 10 indoor/outdoor cats, or why he was targeted.

When Groot is outside he stays on the farm's property except to sometimes visit the nonagenarian neighbor across the road who loves visits from Wooley's cats, which are fixed but don't wear collars.

Since the shooting, Wooley has restricted Groot's time outdoors — a turn of events the 10-pound, 15-month-old cat is not happy about.

But Wooley doesn't want to take more chances.

"He's like my baby," Wooley said.

Anyone who has information about the shooting is urged to call the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office at 715-373-6120.

'It's going to affect me the rest of my life'
Victim of arson attack relieved by verdict

More than 16 months after Sherry Hanson awoke with her former boyfriend trying to smother her in the burning bed he had set afire, the Ashland woman finally has some peace of mind.

She was in the courtroom Tuesday when the verdicts against her attacker, Eugene Stumbaugh, were announced: Guilty of two counts of bail jumping. Guilty of arson. And most important, guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

It took the jury just 13 minutes to make a decision.

"It's enormous, just an enormous relief," she said.

Though Stumbaugh has been in jail since shortly after the attack, he has haunted Hanson ever since. She would bolt awake at night, reliving the night he set her afire. She feared that Stumbaugh somehow would get out of jail and return to finish what he started on the night of July 7, 2018.

"Never knowing what Eugene is up to next was just a lot of anxiety," she said in an interview the day after the verdict.

Stumbaugh was charged after he took a container of gasoline to Hanson's bedroom and as she slept, poured it on her bed and set it ablaze. He then took a pillow and held it over her face as the fire spread.

Hanson managed to free herself and ran screaming from her home as the fire spread throughout her bedroom. She suffered serious burns and was taken by helicopter ambulance to a Duluth hospital.

Stumbaugh turned himself in to police the following day, and has remained in custody since.

Hanson knows now that Stumbaugh is going to prison for a very long time, perhaps for the rest of his life. But enduring years of an abusive relationship that ended with an attempt on her life is not something she can easily put behind her.

"It's going to affect me for the rest of my life," she said. "I'm not going to be the same. I'm always going to be looking over my shoulder. I am maybe not as trusting as I used to be."

Hanson still does not know what caused Stumbaugh to abuse her. But it got so bad that she felt she would be better off dead than endure it any longer.

"He took control of my house, he took control of me. It was horrendous," she said. "He told me every day if I were to leave him, I would burn."

She said she finally mustered her courage and ordered him out of her house.

"He just didn't accept it," she said.

That led to a confrontation that resulted in the police being called and Stumbaugh's arrest on domestic abuse charges. Freed on bail, Stumbaugh wasted little time in returning to Hanson's home, pouring gasoline from a lawnmower into a breakfast bowl, then throwing it on her bed and igniting it.

"I knew he was going to burn me, I just didn't think it would be that soon," she said.

Both Hanson and her caregiver, Dave Pruski, 71, who was also in the house when Stumbaugh made his attack, were pleased with the way the case was handled by police and the courts.

"The case was handled terrifically by Ruth (Kressel, Ashland County assistant district attorney) and the rest of the staff. That includes police officers, the fire department, and the outcome was fantastic. We can now live a life without fear," Pruski said.

Like Hanson, he bears scars from the attack. Since that night, he's been unable to look through the kitchen window for fear of seeing Stumbaugh lurking outside.

"Maybe we will be able to take the chair away from the door, knowing he will not be there. It's been there for the last 16 months," he said.

Hanson said she's still in the process of repairing her fire-damaged home, but she's ready to get on with her life and close the chapter written by Stumbaugh.

"We'll just try to move on," she said.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)