We recently told you about scammers tricking consumers into sharing sensitive information by telling them a federal stimulus plan will pay their power bill for a month; they just need your SSN and bank routing number. If you think that no one would fall for such an obvious ruse, then you might be surprised to know that not only were thousands of people in New Jersey taken in by the scam, but they passed it along to their friends because they thought it was a good deal.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (PSE&G to you and me), the largest utility company in the Garden State, tells the Newark Star-Ledger that at least 10,000 of it customers have were taken in by the stimulus scam, in which the consumer provides the scammer with their real info and receives a fake Federal Reserve routing number. The scammer says to just use that routing number on your next payment and the government will foot the bill.
But, says PSE&G, the scam didn’t hit so many people because the ID thieves were so good at their job. Instead, it spread like wildfire with the help of cash-strapped consumers who wanted to tell their friends about how to get a month of free power.
From the Star-Ledger:
Hoping to get their friends in on a good thing, scores of hoodwinked consumers started spreading what they thought was a real Federal Reserve bank routing number for the promised utility bill subsidy.
The scam went viral, leaping across social networks like Facebook and getting forwarded to personal e-mail and contact lists…
The power company thought it had nipped the scam in the bud when it first became aware of the problem in the spring. But even after sending out several advisories, it noticed that a growing number of people were submitting payments using that same bogus routing number.
In June, PSE&G placed a block on that particular routing number. Anyone who tried to use it to make an online payment instead received a message saying the payment had been denied.
The good news is that, while thousands of people were fooled into not paying their utility bills for a month, not everyone involved actually went through the step of providing the scammers with their sensitive information.