The “Obama utility bill scam” spreads to Cleveland

Update to a wretched story from earlier this week: the “Obama utility bill scam,” in which con artists enjoy astonishing success at convincing gullible marks that President Obama has launched a program to pay their electric bills, has hit Cleveland, Ohio in a big way.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that United Way of Cleveland felt the need to change the message on its answering machines to a warning that “rumors of the Obama program were false, after fielding dozens of calls.”

A United Way employee watched one of the passengers on a bus stand up and announce that Obama was paying off electric bills, claiming she had successfully gotten her utilities paid using the numbers from her Social Security card.  It’s not clear whether she was a dupe who hasn’t realized the program is a hoax yet, or an active participant in the scam.

Another Cleveland resident interviewed by the Plain Dealer reported hearing numerous testimonials from friends and relatives that this marvelous “free electricity” program was real, and had even paid off bills for insurance and cell phone services, in amounts of up to $1000.  A caller who lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau said she had friends who were trying to use the phony program to make their mortgage payments.

The scam artists harvest personal ID data from victims, and keep them happy by making payments to utility companies from phony bank accounts.  Most online payment systems from utility companies will generate immediate confirmation emails when payments are logged, long before the company has a chance to fully process the payment.  This creates a window of time in which the victims happily believe that President Obama really did pay their bills.

The Plain Dealer advises anyone who fell for the hoax to contact the companies they “paid off” immediately, and get in touch with the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft department (click here or call 1-877-438-4338) if a Social Security number was given to the scammers.

It remains tragic on numerous levels that anyone would find such a hoax plausible.  The perfect scam for the dependency generation continues its relentless march across Food Stamp Nation.