Here are several items worth knowing on consumer issues:
Utility customers facing a disconnection or needing to restore their service have a chance to remain connected with a one-time payment of $175.
The annual Winter Reconnection Order by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is in effect through April 15.
• Electric and/or natural gas service can be restored or maintained by making the one-time payment. If customers owe past-due amounts on both electric and natural gas bills, the $175 can be divided between both utilities.
• For customers who have been disconnected, payment of a reconnection fee of no more than $36 can also be required. If the utility’s reconnection fee is higher, the balance may be billed to the customer the following month.
• Customers must sign up for a payment plan to pay any remaining past-due balance.
• Households with incomes at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($41,213 gross annual income for a household of four) may use funds provided through the Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (E-HEAP) to make the one-time payment. These funds are available through local community action agencies.
• Former customers involved in plans called “Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP Plus)” and “Graduate PIPP Plus” can use the reconnection order to re-enroll or continue participation. Those customers must pay the balance of any missed PIPP Plus or Graduate PIPP Plus payments that are more than $175 by the due date of the next bill.
• The $175 can be used to establish electric or natural gas service instead of the required security deposit. If the deposit is more than $175, the remaining balance will be added to the next month’s bill.
Ohio Edison is warning customers about door-to-door salespeople posing as company employees. Individuals knock on customers’ doors, promising savings on electricity bills. They may ask to see the customers’ electric or other utility bills.
FirstEnergy issued a statement saying it does not have employees working in personal door-to-door sales calls.
Ohio Edison and FirstEnergy employees and contractors wear company uniforms and carry photo identification. Verification can be done by calling Ohio Edison at 800-633-4766.
Health insurance scam
Consumers are reporting phone calls that claim to be from the government about new health insurance cards required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is the latest twist on the “Medicare scam” that the Better Business Bureau says it has seen for years. Fraudsters try to take advantage of people confused by the health-care reform that has come to be known as Obamacare, the BBB said.
The scam involves a call from someone claiming to be from the federal government. The caller says you’ve been selected to receive insurance cards through the new Affordable Care Act. However, before the caller can mail your card, they need to verify personal information, such as your bank account and Social Security numbers.
BBB says consumers should decline the offer.
Other calls make false claims about an association of federal courts, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. The caller says people are entitled to refunds as part of cases brought by the FTC against companies that engaged in timeshare resale fraud. People are told they must pay several hundred dollars in “court costs,” “processing fees” or “filing fees” to get their refunds. The scammers may use an actual FTC case number.
Again, do not participate.
The Better Business Bureau of Akron Inc., in partnership with the Akron-Summit County Public Library, and the financial group FINRA’s Investor Education Program, is presenting “Tricks of the Trade — Outsmarting Investment Fraud.”
Classes around the library system started earlier this month and continue through Nov. 6.
• 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Nordonia Hills Branch Library.
• 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Portage Lakes Branch Library.
• 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at Green Branch Library.
The free programs discuss investment fraud, risk factors and persuasion tactics.
A free DVD is available from the FINRA Foundation. A speaker for a group can be arranged by calling Dave DeShon at 330-253-4590.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning about restaurants being targeted by utility scams, where callers threaten to shut off the restaurant’s power unless it provides immediate payment.
At least four restaurants have filed reports of the scam since July, and two reportedly lost approximately $500 to $800 to the scam.
A caller contacts the business claiming to represent a local utility company and says the business is late on its payments. The caller threatens to turn off the business’s power unless it makes an immediate payment via a prepaid money card.
Utility scams have been reported by businesses in Cleveland, Columbus, and Fairfield County.
A business is advised to demand information in writing before sending any payment and do not trust someone who says you must pay using a prepaid money card or wire transfer.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office can be reached online at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or by phone at 800-282-0515.