Officials warn of utility bill assistance scam

Social media and in-person solicitors used to search for victims

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HOUSTON - A new identity theft scam that claims federal assistance is available to help with utility bill costs has been reported nationwide.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the scammers are using in-person solicitors, social media, fliers, phone calls and text messages to contact potential victims.

Abbott said the scam claims a new federal program established by the President Barack Obama Administration is providing free utility bill payment credits or offers to apply payments on customer's behalf.

Officials said there is no such program, and no federal money or payments have ever been applied to the victims' accounts. In the end, victims who've been taken by the scam are still responsible for making the payments to their utility companies.

To avoid being taken by the scam, officials said Texas utility customers should consider three tips:

• Never provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests it during an unsolicited phone call or in-home visit.

• If someone calls claiming to represent the local utility company and demands immediate payment or personal information, call recipients should hang up the phone and call the customer service number on their utility bill. Texans should never give in to high pressure calls seeking personal information.

• Texans should never allow anyone into their homes to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless an appointment has been scheduled or a utility problem has been reported. Anytime a utility employee arrives at a residence, the occupant should require that the employee produce proper identification.

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