It’s certainly been hot lately! Unfortunately, with all the hot weather we all need to run our air conditioners more. And that means higher electric bills. Now, it seems there are people out there trying to take advantage of you with a scam that falsely offers help from the government to pay your bills.
Although there are several variations, here’s the way this one works. You receive a phone call saying that President Obama has approved a special federal program to help pay energy bills. All you have to do is provide some personal information, like a bank routing number or your Social Security number.
This claim is entirely false!
Erin Campbell, Director of Communications for Corn Belt Energy says, “This particular scam seems to be so successful across the country because it’s playing on many issues – larger utility bills due to hot weather coupled with a down economy and the lure of government assistance. The ruse sounds so plausible that people don’t stop and think twice about giving out their personal information.
“Hopefully, we can equip our co-op members with information to protect themselves from these schemes. If our members are ever concerned or confused, we encourage them to simply hang up the phone and call our official number to sort things out.”
You may not have been contacted yet, but you should keep in mind that scams like this one evolve over time, so the next one may be slightly different.
Kevin Bernson, Vice President of Media and Public Relations for Shelby Electric Cooperative says, “So far we haven’t seen or heard of any scams like we’ve seen in the news recently, at least in our service area, but members should be leery of anyone offering you help with your electric bill or saying they represent the cooperative. They may say they will help subsidize your energy bills, but you should never give out your bank account information or Social Security number over the phone.
“Most utilities would not be asking you for that type of information. As with anything, you can and should always contact your cooperative if you ever have questions.”
Law enforcement officials are also keeping a close eye on these types of scams.
Robert M. Ormerod, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, FBI Springfield Division, stated, “Telephone scammers are good at what they do. They say anything and target everyone to try to cheat people out of money. They may call you and imply that they work for a company you trust, they may send direct mail, place ads to convince you to call them, or they may solicit by email using your computer.
“Don’t become a victim to a scam. Educate yourself regarding what to look and listen for when answering your phone or using your computer. The FBI’s web site, contains valuable tips that you can use to protect yourself and your family. Individuals can also visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center where you can learn about common scams that are occurring, or report a scam. It is imperative that citizens remain vigilant toward recognizing and reporting scams and fraud.”
Remember, if you’re ever contacted by one of these individuals trying to scam you report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies. And, if you ever have a question about a special program involving your energy bill, contact your cooperative.
More online: For some helpful tips on how to avoid telemarketing fraud, visit www.icl.coop and look for the Powered Up link.
Here are some sites you can use to educate yourself about current scams:
Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov
When you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers, you increase your chances of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.
Here are some warning signs of telemarketing fraud—what a caller may tell you:
• “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
• “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
• “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
• “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
• “You don’t need any written information about their company or their references.”
• “You can’t afford to miss this ‘high-prof t, no-risk’ offer.”
• If you hear these or similar “lines” from a telephone salesperson, just say “no thank you” and hang up the telephone.