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Utility bill scam hits local residents

Utility bill scam hits local residents
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Union City Electric System is no longer accepting e-check payments on its website or through its 1-800 number due to a suspected scam involving some of the local utility’s customers.
Scott Gilliam, director of office services for the Union City Electric System, told The Messenger Tuesday he was first contacted by Commercial Bank on Monday morning.
“I’m not sure how it’s being communicated,” he said. “I don’t think this is being communicated via email. It seems more word of mouth at the local level.”
He said it appears customers are being told there is a new government program that helps customers pay their utility bills. Victims are apparently being provided a bank account number and a routing number and are being told to submit an echeck to that account.
“The bank account and routing number appeared to be valid,” Gilliam said. “As far as we know, there’s no such program.”
Gilliam said about 10 to 15 UCES customers have fallen victim to the alleged scam so far.
UCES manager Jerry Bailey has contacted the Union City Police Department and is working with acting police chief Perry Barfield on the case.
Meanwhile, the local utility has suspended all payments by e-check “until this all settles,” Gilliam said.
The scam involving the local utility is the latest in a series of reported scams involving the Internet.
The scam is apparently being run nationwide.
According to an article on MSNBC’s website, the scam is being promoted as a bailout authorized by President Obama’s administration.
“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,” an article by MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan states in part.
“There is no such utility payment assistance program. But electricity users seem to be falling for the ruse everywhere, making it one of the more successful scams in recent times,” Sullivan wrote.
Gilliam provided the link to the MSNBC website and the article by Sullivan.
According to Sullivan’s story, victims have fallen for the scam in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Utah, California and across New England. More than 10,000 people fell for the scam in New Jersey earlier this summer, according to MSNBC, and more than 2,000 people fell victim to what has been termed the “Obama utility bill scam” in the Tampa, Fla., area earlier this month.
Anyone who suspects they are being solicited by scammers should contact their local law enforcement agency.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 7.11.12

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