Once more, scammers are trying to exploit the Recovery Act to pick the pockets of unwitting Americans.
This time the ruse involves claims that the economic stimulus initiative includes money to pay your utility bills. Not true, as some unlucky people in Delaware discovered after signing up for the bogus claim.
According to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, which so far has received 35 complaints about the fairly elaborate scheme, con artists are contacting people via telephone, fliers, text messages, social media, and, in some cases, even going door-to-door wearing what appear to be utility company uniforms.
The bait is a claim that the federal government will use stimulus funds to pay your utility bills for one month. To receive the money, you must first “register” and provide your Social Security and bank routing numbers. In some instances you’re also asked to pay a $100 “enrollment fee.” You are then given a phony bank account with phony routing numbers, which you are told to give to your utility company when signing up online to deduct payment for your current bill from that account.
When the utility company eventually learns that the account is fake, you could be required to pay a late fee, and possibly have your service interrupted.
The scam appears to be double-barreled, aimed at stealing both bank-account and personal-identity information.
“Scammers have no problem exploiting the fact that families are worried about paying their bills, but consumers can protect themselves with the right knowledge,” said the Delaware Attorney General, who urged anyone who might be approached “to ask questions, verify information, and always remember that offers which seem too good to be true usually are.”
The Better Business Bureau of Arkansas has posted an alert about the same scheme in that state. The BBB advises the following:
- "Never provide your social security number, credit card number, or banking information over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident with whom you are speaking.
- “If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your utility company and are pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up and call the customer service number on your utility bill.
- “Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas lines, or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.
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