Florida Power & Light Co. is warning customers to ignore a bill payment scam that's offering to pay utility bills but is really soliciting personal financial information.
About 4,500 customers have tried to use false bank information provided by the scammers to pay their utility bill, FPL said.
FPL said it reported the scam to Florida's Consumer Affairs office, the State Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Secret Service Miami Electronic Crimes Task Force.
Targets of the scam were given a bogus bank routing number to pay their utility bills in exchange for personal information, FPL said. Customers were contacted by the scammers by phone, text message, social media and through friends, the utility said.
"The common thread is that customers are being told that the federal government will pay their bill," said Heather Kirkendall, an FPL spokeswoman.
FPL began receiving calls from customers about the scam on Wednesday. The state's largest utility said customers who might have been scammed will receive a letter alerting them that their payment was invalid. The utility also has reprogrammed its online payment system to give an error message if someone tries to use the false banking information.
Florida's Department of Consumer Services said it received a complaint about the scam Thursday morning from a Fort Lauderdale resident who fell for it.
In her complaint, the resident said: "A friend called to say that [ President] Obama was paying electric bills. Experiencing the financial impact of a bad economy, I went online and completed the process."
The customer said she was told to set up an online account and use a certain number as a bank routing number, along with her Social Security number to pay her $290 electric bill.
After following up with FPL, the customer learned it was a scam to get information, the complaint says.
The "Obama" scam is multi-state, according to the Better Business Bureau, which posted an item warning consumers on its website.
"The scam has con artists posing as utility company representatives. The catch? They want your Social Security number along with your credit card and bank routing information," the Better Business Bureau says.
Florida's Attorney General said it has received three calls from consumers complaining about the scam, one from Fort Lauderdale and another from Miami Beach.
Pat Perez, 56, of Delray Beach said her sister-in-law told her that the president was paying people's utility bills so she went online to check it out. Her $310 "payment" seemed to be accepted, but now Perez regrets entering her Social Security number.
"Live and learn," said Perez, who said had fallen behind on her utility payments after her husband lost his job.
FPL urged customers to ignore suspicious attempts to solicit personal information, such as bank account numbers, user names and passwords, credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers. The utility recommends victims call local police authorities and the state attorney general's office.
Consumers who think they've been victims also can call state consumer services, 800-435-7352.
Other utilities have been the target of scams in recent months, the utility said.
LCEC, an electric distribution cooperative in Southwest Florida, recently notified customers of a similar scam.
PECO Energy in Pennsylvania received numerous complaints from customers receiving phone calls from people claiming to be utility employees, according to The Consumerist website. The callers would tell them they were hundreds of dollars behind on their bills and at risk for their service being cut off.
The scammer would tell the customer the fastest way to avoid having their electricity cut off would be to buy a prepaid Green Dot Visa debit card and provide them the information on the card. At least five customers fell for the ruse, according to PECO.
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