Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Atmos Energy warns against utility scam
Scammers have visited customers in person, posted fliers, and used social media and texting to send messages as part of the scam.
No mater how helpful it would be, President Barack Obama is not going to pay your electric bill, as a new scam infesting the country suggests.
Atmos Energy, a natural gas utility that serves several cities in North Texas, is warning its customers of the latest "Utility Bill Scam" to hit five states. The scam claims Obama will foot the bill for energy costs -- or supply credits -- and asks consumers to provide their social security numbers and other account information in an effort to commit identity fraud.
Jennifer Ryan, spokesperson for Atmos Energy, said the company is just trying to get ahead of the storm and is asking customers to be smart about what information they give out.
"We will never ask for your full social [security number] and will not be sending representatives to your door to obtain any personal or account information," Ryan said. "Anything or anyone requesting account information or social security numbers should draw a red flag. This has been reported in five other states; nothing has been reported in our area yet."
The utility bill scam represents a risk of identity theft. Atmos Energy said employees always carry proper identification and never contact customers requiring personal information such as social security numbers.
Ryan hopes customers are vigilant against possible identity theft and advised them to contact the company if they receive any suspicious emails.
"We are just trying to get a head of the big storm," Ryan said. "We haven't had any instances reporting that it is actually happening to our customers, but we want to make sure no one gets scammed."
Ryan said call the police if anyone comes to their door asking for any personal information, then call Atmos Energy, the Better Business Bureau, and the state attorney general's office.
"Scams like this pop up every now and then, but then we haven't seen one of this kind -- saying the president is going to pay for your bill -- so it is unique," Ryan said. "I'm sure the Better Business Bureau probably sees scams of this nature from time to time."
According to Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports, scammers have visited customers in person, posted fliers, and used social media and texting to send messages as part of the scam.
"I checked with my staff and as far as I can tell, we're not receiving reports of this scam here. Of course, it could still be happening," said Jeannette Kopko, senior vice president of communications for the Dallas and Northeast Texas division of the BBB. "The BBB can collect information about scams and help warn the public by responding to individual inquiries, posting scam alerts, working with news media, and if we get concrete information, share it with appropriate law enforcement. One way the BBB warns the public is the BBB Scam Source, which aggregates scam reports and offers one way for consumers to report scams."
Jon Stoval, spokesperson for the Carrollton Police Department, echoes Ryan's identity theft concerns.
"The Carrollton Police Department often sees various type of trickery used to gain access to a person's personal identifying information or personal funds," Stoval said. "As of yet we have not been informed of any scams specifically related to Atmos Energy, but we strongly advise everyone use common sense when releasing personal information. If you suspect that something does not seem quite right, then assume that it is not."
Stoval recommends that instead of releasing information to someone who has initiated contact, call the company directly and verify the information. Most of the time the business already has the information they would need and there would be no reason for them to request or verify any other identifying information, he said.
If customers believe their Atmos Energy bill has been affected, call 888-286-6700 to speak with a customer service representative.
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