Utility bill scam targeting thousands

Crooks persuading victims to give up personal information

Published On: Jul 10 2012 05:11:41 AM EDT   Updated On: Jul 10 2012 10:30:07 AM EDT
IDENTITY THEFT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

There is new information for on a crime alert Channel 4 first unveiled last month. It's been dubbed the the Obama Utility Assistance Scam.

Crooks are persuading victims to give up their personal information believing the government will pay their utility bills.

Channel 4 recently learned that despite the warnings, more than 2,000 people in Tampa fell for the scam just last week and Florida isn't the only state where people are being robbed of their identities.

It's ridiculously hot outside. Utility bills are spiking in the midst of a heat wave and on top of it all, it is an election year.

This combination has resulted in thousands of homeowners falling victim to the scam.

Another 10,000 people were recently scammed in New Jersey. There are victims in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New England.

The scammers have gained success circulating the fraud on Facebook, leading the victims to think that President Obama is trying to win their vote.

"In the midst of their excitement, they're forgetting they're divulging Social Security numbers and personal account info," Channel 4 crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said.

Jefferson notes people are going door to door selling the scam, persuading victims to give up their Social Security numbers for the bogus payment assistance program.

He said it's possible that some employees don't even know themselves that it is a scam, that they could be working for an illegal operation.

"They could be under false pretense that this is legit," Jefferson said. "They feel it's innocent and the persons are paying on a daily rate and going home with a pocket full of cash."

Utility companies nationwide are falling victim as well, processing the bogus payments, only realizing later that it's a scam.

JEA warns fraudulent payments will not be applied to JEA customer bills. They say beware, there is no such federal funding.