Someone has been contacting people and telling them the President is going to pay their utility bill or issue credits to them for it, and thousands of people have fallen for it so far. It may sound ridiculous to you, but wait until you hear how they’re doing it – it’s more convincing than you might think.
- You get a leaflet, phone call or visitor (yes, they’re going door to door) stating that a special government assistance program is available to pay your utility bills one time only. That’s plausible – there are some schemes to help low income people afford certain utilities, and it is an election year.
- The leaflet, caller or visitor says in order to claim this assistance, you’ll need to “register” using your Social Security number and your bank routing number.
- If you provide that information, they can access your bank account.
It’s on that second step that warning bells should go off. But if there were such a program, it probably would need that sort of personal information from you, so I can see how some people are buying into this. Always double check anyone who asks for personal information like your Social Security number or bank account information. Even if the people asking for it claim to work with an organization you trust, phone up that organization at a number you know for sure to be theirs, and make sure the call you received is legitimate.
And people who fall for this are spreading it through social media sites like Facebook, causing other friends to buy into it, assuming the first friend had a good experience. [Update: about ten minutes after I published this article, I received an email that appeared to be from a well-known legitimate savings website claiming I could get the President to pay some of my bills.]
Authorities aren’t even sure if the people handing out the leaflets know it’s a scam. They could have just been hired to give out leaflets, with no idea they’re representing a scam.
Honing your filters
You need to have a filter in your head that automatically looks at things like this and says, “That sounds too good to be true.” If you don’t have that, work on it. Be cynical of any offer you get in which someone’s going to do you a huge favor – some of these offers are real, and it only takes a little bit of communication to make sure an offer you’ve received is genuine. That little bit of communication will save you huge hassles later when the offers turn out to be scams. Don’t ever let your emotions keep you from looking a gift horse in the mouth. Remember there was another gift horse – the infamous Trojan horse that seemed to be a lovely gift during the middle of a war, but actually housed a bunch of soldiers who were able to get into the city of Troy and destroy it.