Scammers claim to assist victims with cost of utility bills
By Mason Lerner
Killeen Daily Herald
The Texas attorney general's office warned Texans late Wednesday afternoon about a new identity theft scam sweeping the country.
A memo from the attorney general's office said scammers, using in-person solicitations, social media, fliers, phone calls and text messages, are luring victims by claiming Americans can get federal financial assistance to help cover the cost of their utility bills.
According to the report, scammers are convincing victims they can sign them up for a new federal program established by the Obama administration that provides utility bill payment credits or makes payments on customers' behalf.
Victims are supplied with a phony "Federal Reserve bank routing number" to pay their utility bills. In order to "complete" the phony transaction, victims are asked to provide their Social Security and bank account numbers.
There is no such program.
So far, there have been no victims reported in Bell County. That does not mean there is no threat, said Richard Kitterman, regional director for the Better Business Bureau.
"This sounds fairly typical of how these guys work," said Kitterman. "The most successful scams are always based on something with an element of truth, it is timely and it is kind of believable."
Dave Haley, Harker Heights Police Department's community service officer, said that unfortunately, scams like this often target the elderly.
"Usually, it is people trying to get elderly people's information because they are the easiest to scam," Haley said. "They are from a different era where no one would intentionally target the elderly."
"Unfortunately, that era is over," he said.
The attorney general's office provided these three tips to help avoid scams:
Never provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests it during an unsolicited phone call or in-home visit.
If someone calls claiming to represent the local utility company and demands immediate payment or personal information, call recipients should hang up the phone and call the customer service number on their utility bills. Texans should never give in to high-pressure calls seeking personal information.
Texans should never allow anyone into their homes to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless an appointment has been scheduled or a utility problem has been reported. Any time a utility employee arrives at a residence, the occupant should require that the employee produce proper identification.
Contact Mason Lerner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.