July 21st, 2012
Allison here, with AllClear ID. If someone calls your house, or comes to your door telling you that the federal government can pay your utility bills, don’t believe them! It’s a scam, and it’s one that has claimed tens of thousands of victims in several states across the country.
The scam was first reported in May, when Dallas-based Atmos Energy warned its 3 million customers across 12 states about the scheme. The scammers notify people by email, text message, social media, phone and/or door-to-door about the “program,” and then ask for a Social Security number in order to enroll. Those who provide their information are given bogus bank account information, and don’t realize what’s happened until the payment doesn’t go through and the bank information doesn’t work. By this time, victims have given up their Social Security number– the most valuable information an identity thief can have.
Although government programs do exist to help lower-income families with their utility bills, blanket grants or programs similar to the one the scammers are peddling don’t exist. Part of how this scam is getting so many people is that the scammers say this program is new, so victims may believe what they first hear about it. The scammers are also adding President Obama’s name to the scheme, which could be luring victims into a sense of legitimacy. Also, more people are in need of help with their utility bills, given the bad economy and the recent heat wave that is driving up everyone’s bills. The door-to-door element is also scary, since it not only adds legitimacy to the scheme, but it also opens up the possibility that those who are visiting houses may not be aware that they are peddling a scam.
Reports of victimization have surfaced in Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Utah. As of July 16, warnings of the scam have been given in Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas, particularly since President Obama visited the Lone Star state for private fundraising events this past Tuesday. Even if your state hasn’t been hit, or warned, be mindful as the reason why this scam is spreading is because it is working. Thousands of people have already become victims of identity theft, and the fact that it hasn’t hit your state yet isn’t an excuse to be lax on the precautions against identity theft.
If you, or someone you know may be a victim of this scam, contact law enforcement immediately. If you’ve been approached or contacted by someone offering something similar, don’t give away any personal information or comply with their demands. Your utility company would never ask for this information in person or over the phone in the manner that these scammers are doing. Hang up the phone or shut the door, and contact your utility company and law enforcement right away. Both need to be aware of the situation so they can warn others and focus on helping those who may have already been scammed.