Residents warned of spreading utility scam - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Residents warned of spreading utility scam

A wave of scams is sweeping the nation, and one of these deals with residents power bills. It's a scam that is leaving residents with stolen identities and a power bill still to pay.

"The past 12 days we've had as many returned e-checks as the whole half year," explained Aaron Zumwalt, administration and finance manager at Dixie Electric Power Association.

It was this statistic that got the attention of Dixie Electric Power Association. When they dug deeper, they found the culprit.

"People are getting calls at home from somebody claiming to be from the federal government, that says, if you give us some information, we can help you pay your power bills," said Aaron. "They give their SS numbers, or some type of personal information. They are then given a routing number, or account number, to pay online via e-check."

So then residents go to pay their bill, using this routing number provided by the scammer, and the payment doesn't process. It's because the routing number is fake. So while residents think their bill has been paid, their account actually becomes delinquent and their identity has been stolen.

"Be smart about it. You have to realize the federal government is not going to call your home and offer to pay your power bill for you. You just have to be careful to never give out that information," warned Aaron. "If it sounds suspicious, give us a call. Give your utility company a call to find out if it's real. We will be able to find that for you."

Dixie Electric and Southern Pine Electric have both stopped accepting e-checks until this scam clears out. If you have fallen victim to this scam, Aaron has some advice.

"Pull your credit histories. You may want to put credit warnings on your credit history. Those things that if somebody were to try to use your credit in the future, it would stop them and let the person know that something is going on, and contact you personally to find out before any new accounts are opened up under your name," explained Aaron.

Never give out sensitive information over the phone. If you have any questions regarding billing or payment programs, residents are urged to call their electric company.

There is a real federal government program that helps low-income families with utility bills. It's called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. More information can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/

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