Thursday, July 19, 2012
HSUD warns: utility scam
By SUE WATSON
A new scam is affecting American utility company customers, by a fraudulent claim that President Obama will pay a person’s utility bills through a federal program.
The scam has affected about 54 customers at the Holly Springs Utility Department, according to office manager D. Miller.
She said the scam uses various means to contact a person – fliers, social media, text messages – to claim President Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills.
The person is asked to provide his or her Social Security number and bank routing numbers. In return, the customers are given a fictitious bank routing number that is supposed to pay their utility bills.
What is happening in Holly Springs is one person spreads the routing number around to their friends, thinking they are helping their friends, and their friends tell other friends so the rumor spreads. The routing number and a ficticious account number are passed along to friends.
When the HSUD customer goes online or uses the telephone number to pay their bill, the routing number and ficticious account number is logged into the system. The customer thinks President Obama has paid their utility bill but the bill has not been paid.
Miller said it takes about three days for HSUD to find out that the bill payment was not processed using the routing number and fictitious account number. HSUD then rescinds the credit to the account, then issues a returned check fee of $22 to the customer. The customer still owes their bill and now the additional returned check fee.
Customers may risk their service interrupted.
Individuals who used HSUD’s online payment system or telephone pay system do not forfeit their identity to anyone. Only those people who give callers or email scammers their Social Security number and other information have given up their I.D., she said.
Tips to avoid becoming a victim to this scam resemble tips for avoiding other scams that involve theft of identity.
• never giving personal information (credit card, Social Security number, banking information) to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the contact and know the person you are talking to.
• if you get a call from your utility company demanding payment or pressuring you for payment or personal information, hang up. Call customer service immediately to ask about your bill.
• never allow anyone in your home to check on electric wiring, gas service, or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a problem to your utility. Ask the employees for their I.D. card.
• never give in to high pressure tactics of any kind over the phone or in person that would divulge your personal information.
• never give a credit card or debit card number to anyone over the phone who says your utilities will be cut off if you do not provide the information to them.
A July 9 report from WTOK said the Attorney General’s office has received 1,000 or more calls in the last week about such scams using utility company names to phish for a person’s ID, credit card or bank account information. Utility companies say they do not call and ask for anyone’s information or send emails to verify or ask for information, because utility companies already have their customer’s information in their data bank.
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