MADISON, Wis. - Thousands of Americans have fallen victim to a fast-moving scam that claims to be part of an Obama administration program to help pay utility bills in the midst of a scorching summer.
The scheme spread quickly across the nation in recent weeks with help from victims who unwittingly shared it on social media sites before realizing they had been conned out of personal information such as Social Security, credit card and checking account numbers.
People from all corners of the country report being duped, from New Jersey to California, Wisconsin to Florida, and all parts in between.
The scam benefits from being cleverly executed and coming at a time when air conditioners in much of the country are running around the clock to tame record-high temperatures.
The Madison Water Utility issued a warning for its customers about the scam.
The scam claims the Obama administration will provide credits or apply a payment of $1,000 to utility bills through a new stimulus program. The scam tells customers a new federal program will pay their utility bills, if they give their personal information, including their Social Security numbers. The victims are given fake bank information to use when they pay their bills online.
Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection reported several calls Thursday.
"Earlier this summer, late spring, we heard about this for the first time," said Sandy Chalmers, of DATCP. "They're becoming more and more complex and they involved more money, and people have a lot to lose."
Utility officials said they do not make unsolicited phone calls, texts or emails asking for customers' personal information.
Payments using the fraudulent bank routing number will not be accepted by the Madison Water Utility and payments cannot be applied to customers' bills.
Consumer Protection officials said they adamantly advise consumers to keep their Social Security numbers and other person information private.
If customers have fallen victim to this scam, they should call the Wisconsin Consumer Protection hotline at 608-224-4953.
Officials said the scammers are likely from overseas, making them harder for authorities to track and prosecute.
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