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Diatribe: The Obama Utility Bill Scam.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, I learned that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”. If I get an email from the nephew of an Arabian sheik who insists that he’ll pay me a million dollars to help him and his brother, the Prince, move funds from their native homeland to a U.S. account before rebel forces make them pay for ammunition and child slaves I know not to waste my time. Scams like this have been around for many year and have taken on many forms. But they’re all, basically, the same. They want your money.
Like everyone else with an email address, I’ve received my share of questionable emails. And, like most, I’ve learned to be skeptical about messages that I receive from strangers and items that simply look suspicious. Unfortunately, the creeps and criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated. Misleading messages from criminals can sometimes appear to be legitimate correspondence from well-known sources. It’s understandable to me that, once in a blue moon, someone might fall for one of these scams. But, certainly not thousands of people in only a matter of days.
Criminals have been crossing the country, making their way from state to state, persuading victims that a special federal government assistance program – sometimes described as a bailout authorized by President Barack Obama’s administration – is available to pay their utility bills. Victims are given bank account and routing numbers to use when paying their bills online, but only after they “register” by surrendering their Social Security numbers and other personal information.
Of course, there is no such program. But electricity users seem to be falling for the ruse everywhere, making it in one of the more successful scams in recent times. Last week, tens of thousands of customers were tricked in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and across New England. Utility companies in Utah and California have reported similar scam epidemics earlier this year. And at least 10,000 people fell for the scam in New Jersey in recent weeks.
Historically, scams like this don’t get much traction and perpetrators only hope for a small amount of victims. But this scam, growing to be known as the “Obama Utility Bill Scam”, is spreading simply because it works. Before the local utility company figures out that false account number are being used, the payments are processed and credited to victims who receive confirmation notices. These people are all too happy to share their success stories with family and friends who also fall for the scam. It’s only later that the payments are reversed.
Social media, like Facebook, may have helped the spread of the scam as excited customers, concerned with high utility bills during recent hot weather, share the news online.
I can see this becoming a big problem with thousands of electric bills going unpaid and customers experiencing disruptions in service as well as additional fees. Ladies and gentlemen, your utilities bills must be paid and the President’s not going to pay them for you!
Have you ever been the victim of a scam? Share your story!
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