Thousands of utility customers scammed

July 23, 2012 at 2:04 PM
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NEWARK, N.J., July 23 (UPI) -- Thousands of Public Service Electric & Gas Co. customers in New Jersey fell for a scam that promised the government would pay utility bills for a month.

PSE&G said more than 10,000 customers fell for the scam, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger reported.

The scam, which began on the West Coast, claimed the federal government would pay that month's utility bill through a new stimulus program. To apply, a customer simply needed to provide their Social Security Number and their own bank routing code.

Customers were then given a fake Federal Reserve bank routing number for the promised utility bill subsidy.

The target was to gain access to a person's Social Security number, state officials say, because it exposes that person to identity theft.

"That's often times the use -- to open a credit card account," said Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

Although plenty of people fell victim to the scam nationwide, it was most effective in New Jersey, officials said.

"It started spreading like wildfire from person to person," said PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson.

PSE&G said it blocked the fake Federal Reserve routing numbers as a means to pay bills electronically on June 7 to stop customers from using it.

"We just don't like any of our customers believing that they're being scammed," Johnson said.

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