Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 15, 2012

TPWA warns of possible utility scammers

TAHLEQUAH — The Tahlequah Public Works Authority has been notified by the American Public Power Association to warn customers of a multi-state scam targeting utility customers.

According to the notice TPWA received, scammers are telling victims President Barack Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills. Customers are contacted by the miscreants through in-person solicitation, social media outlets, fliers, automated phone calls and text messaging. They tell customers Obama has approved special funding to provide utility bill assistance and then provide a phony federal reserve bank routing number to use for receipt of the credit or bill payment.

“The truth is, there’s no such funding,” said TPWA General Manager Mark Chesney. “I have not heard of it happening in Oklahoma, but we want to be cautious. They ask for the customer’s personal information and give them a routing number for payment, and then there goes the money. I would be sick if we found out that it was happening here.”

Chesney said the APPA report indicated utility customers in Texas, California, Illinois and Tennessee have have encounters with the scammers.

“Generally speaking, people ought to be cautious anytime they get a phone call asking for personal information,” he said.  “Our membership with the American Public Power Association, which is our national public utility professional association, really keeps us informed on important issues that affect not only the industry, but the customers receiving services. So, consequently, we learn a lot of things from them, especially from their presence around the country.”

There are several cautionary reports online, informing utility customers of the scam and providing basic guidelines to use if approached by an individual or a group claiming utility assistant through the special funding program.

Some of the guidelines include asking to see identification before allowing anyone claiming to be a member of the local utility service company inside their home; calling the customer service line if still uncomfortable after being shown what appears to be proper identification; speaking to a customer service representative with the company to confirm legitimacy of online contact received; and becoming familiar with the company’s appointment and scheduled visit process, as well as the company’s billing and payment processes.

According to one California report, in some cases, the customers have been asked to provide Social Security numbers to apply payments to their utility bill, which presents an identify-theft risk.

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