Local utilities are warning customers to be wary of giving out personal and financial information to just anyone.
Officials with both Jackson and Sawnee electric membership corporations, who serve customers in North Georgia, report that telephone calls are targeting elderly customers with a pitch that sounds too good to be true.
Under the guise of a federal program, scammers ask utility customers for their account information and Social Security number, so that a $350 credit available for seniors can be applied to their account.
"We know nothing of this proposed governmental program; it sounds very suspicious and appears to be a scam. We would never advise our members to release any personal identification information to a third party over the phone," said Blake House, Sawnee’s vice president of member services.
Though Jackson EMC has yet to receive reports of any similar calls placed to members, this week employees were advised to remain alert to suspicious activity and report any similar customer complaints or inquiries to their supervisors.
"Jackson EMC employees, and the administrators of government and charitable programs that provide assistance with utility bill payments never call customers to ask for an account number, Social Security number, or credit card or checking account numbers over the phone," said Brent Cochran, Jackson EMC’s director of customer service.
Both utilities urge customers who get any suspicious calls to report them to the utility and fraud alerts can be placed on the customer’s account.
Utilities must adhere to the Federal Trade Commission’s Red Flags Rules relating to identity theft and consumer information protection. These are new standards that became effective in mid-2009 to protect consumers’ information and add an additional layer of protection to a variety of business transactions.
"We have gone to great lengths to protect our consumers’ personal information and we do not want them to be tricked into a scam that might have our good name tied to it," House said.
Jackson EMC, a cooperative owned by the members it serves, provides electricity and related services to nearly 204,500 meters in 10 Northeast Georgia counties. Sawnee EMC serves more than 148,000 accounts in seven North Georgia counties.
In addition to the phone calls offering help on electric bills, Gainesville officials also warn that recent fliers announcing water testing aren’t from the city’s Public Utilities Department. The flier asks residents to complete the form and leave it hanging on their front door along with a water sample. The form requests name, address and telephone number and also has several questions about water quality. The form also requests information about income level, employment status and homeownership.
The city of Gainesville doesn’t do widespread testing of water; it is done at a customer’s request or if there is a problem. Water customers with questions may call Tina Wetherford at 770-538-2401.