Have you been contacted by someone claiming to be from your utility company, promising the U.S. government will aid your payments through specially approved funds? The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance's Division of Consumer Affairs warns utility consumers to be on guard: Your personal information is at risk.
Consumers that are contacted are being advised to provide Social Security numbers. Once a consumer provides this information, a bank account number is given, supposedly to fund payments. But, the bank account numbers being provided to victims are fake and consumers' payments are being returned.
"There is no such federal utility payment assistance program," said Consumer Affairs Director Gary Cordell. "However, utility customers seem to be falling for the ruse, making it one of the more successful scams in recent times. Victims often share the information with family and friends, who also fall for the scam before learning the truth."
Scammers find victims through all the usual channels: emails, bogus Tweets and Facebook messages. They are also reported to be going block by block, knocking on residents' doors and handing out leaflets encouraging people to pay their bills with the bogus account information.
Scammers also tend to prey on people looking for a shortcut or for the promise of free or easy money. Word of mouth playing on that theme also appears to help this scam spread.
"One reason the scam is spreading is because it seems to work -- at first," said Cordell. "Before the local utility company gets wise to the bogus account numbers being used, the payments are processed and initially credited to victims, who receive payment confirmation notices. Only later, the payments are rescinded."
If you are contacted by one of these scammers:
Do not provide your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident about to whom you are speaking.
If you receive a call claiming to be from your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.
Never allow anyone into your home supposedly to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Always ask for -- and verify -- proper identification.
If you have questions about your utility's conduct, contact the Tennessee Regulatory Authority at www.tn.gov/TRA.