CONSUMER ALERT: NO AID AVAILABLE IN WIDESPREAD UTILITY-BILL SCAM
LITTLE ROCK - In a scheme that preys on consumers' hopes for a break from high utility bills during the sweltering summer months, many Arkansans have received word in the last few days of a government "stimulus" program that will apply credits to utility bills.
Arkansas consumers have been targeted by the widespread scam that offers financial aid from the president or federal government through automated phone calls, text messages and social media.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to make sure consumers know to avoid the scam and that no credits are being applied to utility bills as a result of this bogus program. In fact, although the scammers purport to offer money, they may be attempting to find ways to take money from unsuspecting consumers.
"Consumers should be aware there is no such 'stimulus' program for utility bill payments and they should avoid these types of calls and solicitations," McDaniel said. "We would also warn Arkansans to never give out any personal or financial information, such as a bank account numbers or Social Security numbers, to unknown callers, whether it is related to this or any other issue."
Investigators with McDaniel's Consumer Protection Division are trying to determine whether the scam is being used as a means for identity theft or financial fraud. So far, the Division has no reports of criminal activity in the State directly related to the scam.
The most common problem associated with the scam is that customers are wrongly being led to believe that money is available to assist with their utility bills. There is no financial assistance available through this scam. The bank routing number provided by the scammers for these utility "credits" is no good, which could cause utility customers to fall behind on their payments and face additional fees or the possibility of disconnection.
McDaniel advised consumers to use only the methods authorized by their utility companies when paying utility bills.
Additionally, McDaniel said consumers should not confuse this scam with a legitimate federal program aimed toward helping low- and moderate-income Americans defray their heating and cooling costs. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has been in place for more than three decades and is operated in Arkansas by 16 nonprofit community action agencies. Eligible participants must apply for the program, in person, and in writing.
Consumers eligible for LIHEAP would not be able to enroll in the program over the phone. For more information about legitimate government help available through LIHEAP, visit www.acaaa.org.
To learn more about the recent utility-bill scam or any other consumer-related issue, or to file a consumer complaint, call McDaniel's Consumer Protection Division hotline at (800) 482-8982 or (501) 682-2341, or visit www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.