With the heat wave across the country and rising utility bills, some crooks are trying to take advantage of people with a new type of fraudulent scheme. The claim is that President Obama and the federal government will pay their utility bills through a new federal assistance program.
This has been going all over the country and now the scam has hit Minnesota.
Consumers have been contacted through telephone calls, fliers, social media and text messages with bogus claims President Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota issued an urgent warning Monday with details of the scam.
To receive the money, scammers claim they need the consumer's Social Security and bank routing numbers. In return, customers are given a fraudulent bank routing number to pay their utility bill through an automated telephone payment service.
One reason the scam is spreading: It seems to work. Before the local utility company gets wise to the bogus account numbers being used, the payments are processed and initially credited to victims, who receive payment confirmation notices.
The victims often share their success stories with family and friends, who also fall for the scam. Only later are the payments rescinded.
Last week, 2,000 people were tricked in Tampa, and at least 10,000 people fell for the fake deal in New Jersey in recent weeks.
In Minnesota, Centerpoint Energy said it has about 500 customers who have been impacted by this scam.
"We've been watching this scam closely as it emerged sporadically around the country," said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "Recent reports we've received indicate that it's now here and people need to be aware of the risks."
How to avoid becoming a victim of this scam
People who have provided sensitive personal information in situations like this should be aware of the heightened risks of identity theft and take steps to protect themselves by visiting http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/