Consumer Alert: utility bill payment scam

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 10:51am

A new identity theft scam that is sweeping the country claims that Americans can get federal financial assistance to help cover the cost of their utility bills.

Using in-person solicitations, social media, fliers, phone calls and text messages, scammers are contacting customers and claiming that a new federal program established by the Obama Administration is providing free utility bill payment credits or applying payments on customers’ behalf.

To benefit from the purported program, utility customers are told they must provide their Social Security and bank routing numbers. Victims who provide their sensitive personal information are given a so-called “Federal Reserve bank routing number” to pay their utility bills. Customers are led to believe that their utility bill will be paid if they use this routing number and insert their Social Security number as the bank account number.

In reality, there is no such program, no federal money and no payments ever applied to the customers’ accounts. Customers who use the fraudulent bank routing number are still responsible for their utility bills and must make payments on their own.

To avoid falling for this scam, Texas utility customers should consider three tips:
• Never provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests it during an unsolicited phone call or in-home visit.
• If someone calls claiming to represent the local utility company and demands immediate payment or personal information, call recipients should hang up the phone and call the customer service number on their utility bill. Texans should never give in to high pressure calls seeking personal information.
• Texans should never allow anyone into their homes to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless an appointment has been scheduled or a utility problem has been reported. Anytime a utility employee arrives at a residence, the occupant should require that the employee produce proper identification.

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