Nationwide scam targets utility customers

A multi-state scam has targeted utility customers across the country. The scam aims to steal payments and identity information using in-person solicitations, social media, fliers, phone calls and text messages. Victims have been reported in states such as California, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas and Florida.

Customers have been told that President Obama has approved special funding through the Federal Reserve Bank for utility bill assistance, but there is no such funding.

Scammers are asking customers for personal information, such as Social Security numbers. They then provide victims with a fraudulent bank routing number with which to pay their utility bills.

Gainesville, Fla., Regional Utilities has over 40 customers that used the fraudulent bank routing numbers to pay their utility bills. GRU said the utility believes customers are passing on the routing number to each other via text messages.

“We strive to make our customers aware of potential scams so they can protect themselves from becoming victims of identity theft and other fraudulent activities,” said Bill Shepherd, GRU’s director of customer operations. “Customers should always proceed with caution if an offer sounds too good to be true.”

Other scam victims include customers of the Fort Pierce, Fla., Utilities Authority; Kissimmee, Fla., Utility Authority; and Memphis, Tenn., Light, Gas and Water. Memphis in particular has had about 1,000 customers fall victim to the scam. The utility alerted local media and posted information on its website and social media sites when it first heard about the scam in May.

While the scams seem concentrated in just a few states, utilities across the country are urging customers to remain vigilant. Other utilities in Kentucky, Montana, New York, New Jersey and Washington have issued warnings. — CAITLIN MCDONNELL

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