The scammers are at it again — big time — hitting thousands of Minnesotans with a phony promise that President Obama has a program to pay their utility bills. The Better Business Bureau warns:
Consumers have been contacted through telephone calls, fliers, social media and text messages with claims that President Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills. To receive the money, scammers claim they need the consumer’s Social Security and bank routing numbers.
Give up your Social Security number or bank routing number to these crooks, and they give you a phony bank routing number to enter on your utility bill. Of course, with your Social Security number in hand, identity theft is easy. (We published the BBB warning here on Monday.)
CenterPoint Energy spokesperson Rebecca Virden said that five people had been caught by the scam on Wednesday, but by Thursday, the number jumped to 500 or more.Virden said other utility companies in Minnesota had more than 1,000 customers affected.
According to Virden, some of the scammers also set up shop outside a Social Security office on Thursday, July 12, charging people $10 each for the supposedly magic routing number that would pay their bills. She said CenterPoint called the police on these individuals, fearing for the personal safety of their customers.
In Tampa, Florida, said Virden, more than 10,000 customers were affected by the scam before it got under control. But here in Minnesota, cooperation between Better Business Bureau, utility companies, police and the media all contributed to speedy warnings and action by the utility companies to block the scheme. But, said Virden, the messages continue to go out on social media, possibly tricking more people into giving up personal identification information.