By Jay Meisel
FORT PIERCE - If your electric bill is about due, don't count on President Obama to help you pay it.
Otherwise, you may end up losing money and having your power shut off.
That's the message the Better Business Bureau, Fort Pierce Utilities Authority and utilities all over the nation are sending to people.
Levette Dixon, communications manager for FPUA, said at least 200 of its customers have fallen for the scam. Just last week, 139 of those 200 were affected, she said.
"Nationally, there are thousands of customers," Ms. Dixon said.
People, through a variety of sources, including the Internet, are told falsely that President Obama approved special funding through the Federal Reserve Bank for utility assistance, she said.
The only problem is that no such program exists, she said.
But customers falling for the scam are using check routing numbers provided by the scammers to pay their bills, she said.
While the payment goes through initially, the utility discovers eventually the routing numbers connect to non-existent accounts and the payment is then rejected, she said.
By that time, "they possibly have their service turned off for nonpayment," she said. Additionally, the customers owe late payment and returned check fees, she said.
She doesn't know how the scammers benefit from the scam, but one possibility is that when someone clicks on a link to get the routing number, it loads a virus onto their computer, she said.
Other websites with postings about the scam suggest people may be paying a fee to the get the special routing number.
As with anything else, customers should be wary of "anything that seems too good to be true," Ms. Dixon said.
If someone receives a notice about a special government program, they can call 211 and find out if it really exists, she said.
The Better Business Bureau, in a press release, and FPUA advise people to contact their utility directly for information about their bills.
Ms. Dixon said FPUA would not call a customer and ask for personal information.
The Better Business Bureau advises in the press release for people to not give out personal information to callers they don't know.
If people feel they are victims of a scam they should contact their bank, the bureau advises.
Victims of a scam can also contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft, the Federal Crimes Enforcement Network at www.fincen.gov/help4victims.html and the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at www.stopfraud.gov.