Although local officials haven't yet had complaints about it, a new scam puts people's identity in danger.
On Friday, National Fuel released a statement from its Erie office warning customers of a national scam. In it, scammers claim "bailouts" or "energy credits" are being offered by the Federal Administration to pay utility bills.
Other ploys target mortgages. Contact can be made through phone calls, emails and even door-to-door visits.
Anthony Chimenti, Warren City Police detective, said anybody going door-to-door needs a permit from the city. While the department hasn't received complaints about the scam National Fuel referred to, he said they are aware of a number of other ones.
Just recently, Chimenti said solicitors entered the city and went door-to-door without a permit. There was a group of about seven people from another part of the state asking people to change to a new gas company.
They didn't know the city's rules, Chimenti said, and police had to call their boss. Officers explained if they continue to solicit in Warren they need to pay the fee for a permit so officials can verify who they are.
This ordinance only applies to the city, Chimenti said, so people outside of its limits need to be aware. There may not be the same protections in place, he said.
"I believe in face-to-face business," Chimenti said. "I always feel comfortable with it. In the city, at least there's some protection."
At all times, National Fuel said its employees carry company identification. Customers should never give out personal information, it said, including social security number and banking information unless they know for certain who they are dealing with.
In the scam, customers are told they can register for the utility bill payment program by completing information which includes social security numbers. Scammers then provide customers with bank routings and account numbers to use when paying their utility bills by computer or phone.
According to National Fuel, this payment request isn't automatically rejected, making it appear to be accepted. However, a few days later the fraudulent routings and account numbers are discovered and any payments are removed from the customers' accounts.
"The danger to customers is twofold," National Fuel said. "Divulging personal information, including social security numbers, could lead to identity theft and a host of problems as the scammers open fraudulent bank or credit card accounts using the information."
In addition, customers' bills could go unpaid, leading to late charges and potential disruption of service. Those approached by scammers are urged to contact police.
Reports of other scams come in all the time, Chimenti said, and involve phone calls or letters asking residents to send in money so they will get more in return. The old adage about things being too good to be true is actually true, he said.
Sending money outside of the country is the biggest thing to watch for, Chimenti said, since there's really nothing police can do for people who get scammed that way. Many times, he said phone numbers that show up are made to look like they're American when in fact they're from a different country.
Sometimes, Chimenti said letters come in the mail from Vancouver, Canada. Law enforcement would also have a difficult time catching those scammers.
On the Internet, Chimenti said webpages are secure when they bring up lock icons. But even online, he said people shouldn't take things at face value.
If there are any questions, Chimenti said the police are only a phone call away. They can check out any potential scams, he said.