A nationwide scam may be a threat to utility customers in Upper Michigan. The scammer promises customers that a new program, often called a bailout, offered by the Obama administration will pay utility bills for customers. The scammers use a variety of methods to contact unsuspecting customers including phone calls, emails, and even door-to-door visits as they attempt to obtain personal information.
In the scam, customers are told they can register for the utility bill payment by completing information that includes giving out their social security number and other information. Customers are then given a bank routing and account number to use when they pay their utility bill by computer or phone. The payment request isn’t automatically rejected by the utility company so it could appear that the payment was accepted. After a few days, however, the fraudulent routing and account number are discovered and the payment removed from the customer’s account.
The Upper Peninsula Power Company and the Michigan Gas Utilities have issued press releases to warm customers to never to give out personal information including social security numbers and banking information unless they know with certainty who they are dealing with.
The danger to customers is twofold. Divulging personal information including social security numbers could lead to identity theft and a host of problems as the scammers open fraudulent bank or credit card accounts using the information. In addition, customers’ utility bills could go unpaid leading to late charges and potential disruption of utility service.
UPPCO said it hasn’t seen any of the false payments to date but, nonetheless, issues this warning to customers to be wary of the potential.