Yet, their evil and deceitful ways continue and we have little reason to believe a catch-all solution lies ahead in the short- or long-term. This is the importance of communications and partnerships, and a willingness by news media outlets to cooperate with local, state and federal agencies whose charge is to protect the innocent while building vast firewalls to guard against the misguided geniuses of wrongdoing.
Here’s the latest piece of contempt. It is a scam whose perpetrators are claiming the federal government has introduced a special program to pay consumers’ utility bills under special funding approved by President Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve Bank. The bogus information is being disseminated through popular social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, and to some degree via more traditional means like email, text messages and even face-to-face solicitation. In some cases, even old-fashioned telephone scams are still being called into play.
According to information provided to our newspaper from the Consumer Services Division of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority in Nashville, the latest scam seeks out consumers’ Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or other types of personal identification.
Before we go further, let us be specific. Each of the above should be viewed as red flags and automatic alarms. Although we have said it before, it is a warning whose reminders should come often. Consumers should NEVER divulge Social Security or bank account numbers, or other forms of personal identification, over the telephone, email or Internet if responding to solicitations that were not initiated by the consumer.
TRA administrators advise the latest scam works like this.
In exchange for the consumer’s Social Security number or other personal information, the scammers are offering phony bank account numbers and bank routing numbers for consumers to use to pay their utility bills online. After the personal information has been exchanged and the phony bank account number has been used, the transaction appears to be legitimate — complete with a credit on the customer’s account. It is later discovered the bill was never paid.
TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill doesn’t hold back in his assessment of these criminals: “There are bad actors in the marketplace that seek to take advantage of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. Be aware of such activity and very cautious about giving personal information to parties with whom you are not familiar.”
For those who believe they have been victimized, Hill suggests making quick contact with the local utility company. Locally, most Cleveland and Bradley County residents contract with Cleveland Utilities and Volunteer Energy Cooperative. This is sound advice which should be followed; plus, both CU and VEC have solid reputations among most customers as being helpful, responsible and accountable.
Local victims should take three additional actions.
One is to make immediate contact with local law enforcement. Those living inside the city limits should contact the Cleveland Police Department. Those outside the city’s perimeter, and within Bradley County, should contact the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
Another action by victims, as recommended by the Better Business Bureau, is to make immediate contact with your bank. Advise customer service representatives of the suspected fraud and seek their advice. Also, contact the three national credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and ask to have a notation made on your account to avoid a negative impact on your credit rating. Ask your bank for any assistance possible if you are unfamiliar with how to contact the credit bureaus.
In one last act, spread the word. Inform your friends and family, particularly the elderly, of the fraudulent activity and warn them against such predators.
Additional information is available at www.tn.gov/tra.
Guard your numbers just as you guard your life.