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As originally posted under Business Blogs from the blog of Thomas Content of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on 07/10/12. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/business/161933395.html#!page=2&pageSize=10&sort=newestfirst
A national scam touting a new federal program from President Barack Obama has reached Wisconsin and taken advantage of some electric utility customers.
The scammers are telling utility customers that President Obama or the federal government will provide credits of up to $1,000 to help offset utility costs.
Representatives of several Wisconsin utilities said they're fielding calls from confused customers about the offer. The scam artists are contacting customers by phone and even door-to-door visits in some cases, utility spokesmen said. Around the country, the scam has also been spread through text messages, social media and fliers.
Alliant Energy Corp. of Madison put its billing department on notice for the scam and found that since Thursday, between 90 and 100 “payments” have arrived with wrong bank routing numbers, all in the range of $800 to $1,000, spokesman Scott Reigstad said.
That includes Alliant customers in both Wisconsin and Iowa, he said.
The scam artists are asking for customers to provide credit card and Social Security numbers – which consumer advocates and the Better Business Bureau warn consumers not to do.
“If customers are giving out their credit card number or Social Security number for the routing number to these scammers, these identity thieves could steal money out of their accounts,” said Reigstad. “That’s the bigger problem here.”
Similar scams have been reported around the country, and it’s happening at a time when utility customers have energy costs on their minds. Air conditioners have been running around the clock during the recent heat wave, and millions of customers were without power in the eastern United States after a wave of storms late last month and last week.
Milwaukee-based We Energies has received calls from a handful of customers asking if they were eligible for the “Obama stimulus vouchers,” said utility spokesman Cathy Schulze.
“A couple of customers indicated they had been contacted by the scammers and at least one may have provided personal information,” she said.
Madison Gas & Electric Co., which nearly set a record for energy use during last week's heat wave, has fielded about a dozen calls from customers about the scam, spokesman Steve Kraus said.
Any We Energies customer who is in doubt about a phone call or email they have received about their account should contact the utility to verify at (800) 242-9137, Schulze said.
The Better Business Bureau published these consumer protection tips to keep in mind in light of this scam:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Always think safety first. Do not give in to high pressure tactics over the phone for information or in person to get into your home.