Posted: Jul 21, 2012 2:54 PM by Martin Sutovsky
Updated: Jul 21, 2012 9:57 PM
COLUMBIA - Record highs this summer mean high utility bills for Mid-Missourians. As many struggle to keep up with the cost of running air conditioning full-time, scammers are trying to take advantage.
It's known as "The Obama Utility Scam", and it has affected people all across the nation, and now Columbia. The scam promises utility bill help in the form of a new federal program President Obama created. All customers have to do is register bank routing and social security numbers, in exchange for a new bank routing number, where a payment toward the utility bill will be made. But no utility payment is ever made and no such program exists.
Instead the scammers used the acquired information to drain bank accounts and steal identities, while leaving the victims no closer to having paid off their bills. Mike Odneal, Branch Manager for the Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau, helps protect people from scams like this, but said this particular scam is unique in it's effectiveness.
"One of the reasons why this particular scam seems to be having such widespread effect is because people are forwarding emails to their friends or they are sending text messages to their friends, or social media messages and that sort of thing, saying that they've taken advantage of this program."
While many people know not to give out sensitive information to strangers, this scam seems to have an unusual aura of legitimacy that has people believing the offer of financial help, to be real.
Said Officer Latisha Stroer of The Columbia Police Department, "We've had a drought, which has created high temperatures, large utility bills and the fact that they are using the Obama administration, coined the 'Utility Bailout.'"
The scam first started appearing in March according to The Better Business Bureau, and there are eight confirmed cases in Columbia. Other cities across the nation were hit much harder.
Odneal offered several tips to help consumers keep their information safe, "Never give your personal bank routing information or social security number to anyone who calls you on the phone."
He also added, "The most important thing to remember is take a deep breath...if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is...don't fall for something somebody has told you about, make sure you double check."
Don't trust anybody claiming the president will pay your bills for you, and be careful with your sensitive information, or a tough summer, could get much worse.