Officials with Wisconsin Public Service and Sturgeon Bay Utilities are alerting customers to a scam that's been making the rounds around the country.
It involves promises that a new program, sometimes pitched as a 'bailout' authorized 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 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.
WPS and SBU say they haven't seen any of the false payments to date but are warning customers to be aware of such offers.