Here's some sorry news this summer: There's no secret cash stash out there to pay your utility bills or your old outstanding debts with the state.
Consumers are getting swept into some scams across the country that promise a way to use special bank routing numbers supposedly from the U.S. government to cover their bills.
In some cases, they're watching a You Tube video published by "Money Boy Filmz" called "I paid my bills using my Social Security number." Another is titled: "Believe you can pay bills with your Social Security."
One website notes: "Pay all bills now with your no-longer secret Social Security Trust Account."
Ron Leix, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Treasury, said the state collections department spotted a pattern of payments in the past month that seemed strange.
By re-examining the account numbers being used to pay bills, staff members noticed that individuals had been trying to pay old state debts by using routing numbers from two U.S. Department of Treasury bureaus — the financial management service and the bureau of public debt.
"Individuals are using these federal routing numbers with their Social Security Number as the checking account number and listing the bank as either FMS or the BPD," the state treasury department said.
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Leix said the strategy seems to be one promoted by tax protest groups and others.
Groups reportedly are holding seminars throughout the U.S. to fraudulently teach consumers how to use these tricks to resolve their outstanding government debts.
"It just won't work," Leix said. "It's just not a valid method of payment for any outstanding debt."
A similar type of alert went out by Alabama Power this summer.
Ike Pigott, a communications specialist for Alabama Power, said more than 140 Alabama Power customers since early July have followed the unusual payment advice on websites and videos that promise to pay your bills somehow via a Bureau of Public Debt.
People are being told that your Social Security number is all that you need to unlock payment from a “corporate account” that was established by the government in your name.
Since mid-July, DTE Energy has seen about 1,000 payments that have been returned as a result of customers attempting to use the Federal Reserve routing number.
"These payments initially came back to us as a “returned payment, which is similar to a NSF (non-sufficient funds)," said Jill M. Wilmot, manager of corporate communications for DTE Energy.
She said that when the utility discovered the reason for the returned payments, DTE implemented a safeguard with its payment processing partners that results in a real-time payment rejection when the customer tries to submit a payment using the Federal Reserve routing number.
DTE also contacted its internal security group and its financial institution to make them aware of possible fraud issues.
"Any customer who tries to use this routing number will receive a rejected payment notification, and is still expected to submit payment with a legitimate payment method," Wilmot said.
Not paying the bill can result in a shut-off notification followed by termination of service.
The idea that anyone might fall for this could sound laughable, if some people weren't naturally hopeful to find an easy way out of their troubles.
"Any video, text, e-mail, phone call, flyer or website that describes how to pay bills using a Federal Reserve routing number or using an account at the Federal Reserve Bank is a scam," according to a statement by the bank.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta issued an alert this summer stating that the Fed has receive a "number of unauthorized transactions in which consumers have tried to use the Fed's routing numbers and their Social Security numbers to pay their bills."
The Fed's routing numbers are used to sort and process payments between banks.
If you try to use a Fed routing number that you find online to pay a bill, it might look like it was approved initially in some cases. But ultimately the utility, state treasury or other entity is going to reject the payment and return it as unpaid. And you could be subject to late fees or other penalties.
Consumers Energy said it hasn't seen its customers attempting to use federal routing numbers to resolve outstanding bills.
But Consumers Energy is aware of another scam. Callers can pretend to be from Consumers Energy and demand immediate payment using a gift card or prepaid debit card.
"We’re aware of over 1,300 reports of such scam attempts this year, with customers paying out over $45,000 to scammers," said Brian Wheeler, senior public information director for Consumers Energy.
Other scam alerts:
1) Don't fall for the "federal grant to pay your utility bill" scam.
Con artists are telling consumers that all they need to do to get a grant to pay their bills for one month is call a particular phone number, provide some information and their current monthly gas or electric bills will be credited in full. No real cash would need to be handed over.
The problem, of course, is that you might have just handed over your Social Security number or other ID to a con artist who then sells the data on the black market or uses your ID to file a tax return in your name to claim a refund and create headaches for you later down the line.
And there is no such grant — so you still haven't paid off your utility bill.
2) Don't "verify" your Social Security number over the phone.
Consumer watchdogs say callers are posing as Social Security employees and asking people to verify their "Social Security" number over the phone.
The Office of Inspector General Social Security Administration has stated that fraudsters who pretend to be from Social Security generally ask for your Social Security number, date of birth, your mother's maiden name, or your bank account number.
The scam artist might even state that "the Social Security computers are down" and they need this information now.
The impersonator also may refer to enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug program
You can call Social Security directly at 800-772-1213 before handing over your information. If you initiated contact with a Social Security office, it's possible you would get a call but you should verify any call before handing over personal ID information.
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