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Last updated: July 6, 2012
First published: July 6, 2012
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
Research by Brett Christensen, David White
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer
A new identity theft scam is currently targeting US residents. Many people have reported receiving phone calls and messages claiming that they are eligible for a $1000 US government stimulus payment that can be used to pay bills such as phone and electricity. The text versions of the messages, which are passed around via SMS, email, social media posts, and even printed fliers, urge people to call to receive a routing number that can be used to access the special government stimulus account and pay any bill. In the phone versions of the scam, the callers claim to be government representatives. The callers explain how to get the routing number and start paying bills via the stimulus program.
However, the supposed stimulus payment does not exist and the people making the calls and sending the messages are certainly not from the government. The scheme is an attempt by criminals to steal personal and financial information. Before providing the routing number, the criminals insist that users provide their social security numbers and other sensitive personal information. This information may subsequently be used to steal the victim's identity. The Better Business Bureau's website explains:
Consumers have been contacted in person and through fliers, social media and text messages with claims that President Obama is providing credits or applying payments to utility bills.
To receive the money, scammers claim they need the consumers' social security and bank routing numbers. In return, customers are given a phony bank routing number that will supposedly pay their utility bills. In reality, there is no money and customers believe they have paid their bills when in fact they have not.
Often, people caught out by the scam only realize that skulduggery is afoot after they discover that the bills they believed they paid via the phony routing number and "stimulus account" have not been paid at all. To complicate matters, it appears that some people that have already been tricked by the scammers are actually passing on the routing number and "payment instructions" in the mistaken belief that their friends can take advantage of the stimulus program as well.
Other such "utility bill" scams have been targeting US consumers for several months. If you receive one of these calls or messages, do not provide any personal or financial information to the caller or sender. Do not reply to the messages and do not send them on to others. People who believe they have already become victim to the scam should contact authorities and take steps to ensure that their identity is protected.