Recent Heat Wave Spawns New Scam

Consumers led to believe government will help pay utility bills

What does the recent heat wave have to do with an identity theft scam? More than you might think as clever criminals use growing concern over rising electric bills to trick consumers into revealing personal information.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is among the first to call attention to the new scam. He's received reports that scammers are contacting consumers with the offer to pay their utilities via a new federal program allegedly authorized by President Barack Obama.

Of course, there is no such program. It's another of the scams that use the president's name or likeness, such as the money-to-return-to-school scam. Zoeller said he was alerted to the scam this week from concerned homeowners who reported the solicitations.

“This summer’s high temperatures mean high utility bills and identity thieves have created a fake program to take off with victims’ personal and financial information,” Zoeller said. “Everyone -- especially senior citizens who may be on a fixed income -- should be wary of these types of solicitations.”

How it works

Here's how it works: scammers claim credits will be provided on customers’ bills if they release their Social Security Numbers (SSN) or bank account information. The victims are then given fraudulent bank information to use when paying their bills online.

If consumers fall for it and provide their Social Security numbers, the scammers steal their identities, taking out loans in their name. These loans might not be discovered for months, even years.

If consumers provide their bank account information, the scammers can access the accounts and take any money they contain.

Zoeller said legitimate businesses will not make unsolicited calls, texts or email messages asking for your SSN or bank account numbers. If in doubt, consumers should hang up and dial their utility provider directly.

Like most scams, this one preys on desperation. The recent heat wave left millions of consumers with abnormally high utility bills.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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