News Published: Jul 11, 2012 - 11:37 AM

Consumer Alert: Steer clear of bogus program promising to pay utility bills

By Department of Consumer Protection

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HARTFORD, CT - Given the scorching heat of the past few weeks, scammers are hoping that consumers would welcome a break on their utility bills. Falsely promising financial support from a federal program that does not exist, fraudsters nationwide are collecting personal and financial information from consumers eager to take advantage of the bogus offer.

“At least two Connecticut consumers were contacted with the false message that President Obama is providing credits to utility bills,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said today. “These incidents coincide with reports from across the country that consumers are being scammed with the same promise, and having their identities stolen in the process.”

Scammers tell consumers that in order to process the payment to the utility company, they need the consumers’ Social Security and bank routing numbers. In return, consumers are given a fraudulent bank routing number to pay their utility bill through an automated telephone payment service. Until the local utility company recognizes that bogus account numbers are being used, the payments are processed and initially credited to victims, who receive payment confirmation notices.

Victims then share their success stories with family and friends, who also fall for the scam. Only later are the false payments rescinded, leaving the consumer with the original bill, while the scammers have made off with their information. Stolen Social Security numbers and bank account information can then be used immediately or at a much later date, and even sold to others.

There is no such federal utility payment assistance program, although users in many states have already fallen for the ruse, making it in one of the more successful scams in recent times. Victims include 2,000 people in the city of Tampa and at least 10,000 residents of New Jersey. Other victims have been reported in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and in some New England states, while utility companies in Utah and California reported similar scam epidemics earlier this year.

“This is yet another example of something being too good to be true, and I hope Connecticut consumers remain skeptical,” Rubenstein said. “Whether you receive a phone call, an email, a Facebook message, or even if someone comes knocking on your door with an offer to pay your utility bill, don’t fall for it. Protect your wallet, your social security number and your personal information by staying away from this or similar offers, and make sure to tell your friends and family as well.”

“Customers should never provide personal information such as an account number or Social Security number to any unsolicited caller,” said Penni Conner, Chief Customer Officer for Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Connecticut Light & Power. “If you have any doubt regarding the authenticity of someone claiming to be a CL&P representative, we encourage you to call us immediately at 800-286-2000 to verify the information."

“While we have not had any reported incidents of this activity to date, UIL encourages all electric and gas customers to be remain wary of information predators,” said UIL Holdings Director of Corporate Communications Michael A. West Jr. “Too many customers are taken advantage of by these frequently creative yet destructive scams.”

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