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Rip-Off Alert: New utility program actually old scam

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Updated: 8/19/2013 5:39 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- A revived scam suggests the federal government will help pay your electric bill to help curb the high utility costs many Americans are incurring this time of year.

According to this Rip-Off Alert, victims could be left with a stolen identity and an empty wallet instead of financial relief.

According to the Better Business Bureau, scammers show up at homes, call, text or even contact their victims through social media, convincing them that a new federal assistance program is available that will pay up to $1,000 on their utility or credit card bills.

In some instances victims are given phony bank account and routing numbers to use when paying their bills online, but only after “registering” their Social Security numbers and other personal information. Some victims have been instructed to enter the red digit number from the back of their Social Security card as their account number. In any event, consumers are led to believe that their bills have been paid when entering the information, when in fact they have not.

There is no federal assistance program to pay household bills. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from falling for this scam across the country.

In some cases, once victims receive confirmation of their payment, they share their success with family and friends who in turn also fall for the scam. It can take the companies receiving the “payments” a day or two to recognize bogus account numbers were being used.

Tips to avoid falling for a scam:

Beware of giving personal information over the phone. Never provide your social security number, credit card number or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident with whom you are speaking.

Use your own personal information. Always pay your bills with your own personal information; never pay your bills with information that is not your own.

Do your research. If you receive a call claiming to be 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.

Beware of the door-to-door sales approach. Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.

Be proactive. If you have already provided information to someone claiming to offer this service, contact your bank immediately. Also contact the three national credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and have a notation made on your account so it doesn’t impact your credit rating.

Inform others. Share this information with friends and family so they do not become victims. Elderly victims are common in this type of scam, but anyone who pays a utility bill is a potential victim.



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