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Security is tightened on Gainesville utility accounts

POSTED: January 24, 2009 12:31 a.m.

Customers of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department will have to do more to prove their identities beginning in February, all in the name of security.

The department recently adopted measures that will require customers to provide more identification to open or make changes to their accounts in an effort to prevent identity theft.

The changes are part of a mandate from the Federal Trade Commission that all creditors implement a written identity theft program by May 1, according to Tina Wetherford, finance manager for the Public Utilities Department.

In the past, Wetherford said the department has had problems with identity theft "occasionally," but the new measures are aimed to make the occurrences less frequent.

As part of the changes, business owners must provide a copy of a business license before opening water or sewer accounts with the utility department beginning in February, said Wetherford.

Residential customers also will be required to provide more information when making changes on utility accounts, Wetherford said.

Soon, residential water and sewer customers will have to answer a number of security questions before the department will discuss or make changes to their accounts over the phone, Wetherford said.

The department likely will ask customers to verify the last four digits of their Social Security numbers along with other personal information, such as the color of their first car, Wetherford said.

The department will send questionnaires to customers in the next 30 to 60 days to gather more information for the security questions, Wetherford said.

Once the program is in place, customers will be able to change their utility accounts over the phone, a convenience they don’t have now, Wetherford said Customers still will have to apply for service in person, however.

"We won’t make changes over the phone (now), because of the fact that we don’t have all those (security) questions in place yet," Wetherford said.



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