Will Uncle Sam Pay Your Bills? Don’t Fall for It
Who hasn’t fantasized about discovering a hidden bank account — perhaps funded by a kindly relative — that could magically help us pay our debts?
That’s part of the attraction of a persistent scam that is floating around on the internet. The pitch, however, is that the benefactor is Uncle Sam — and he is greedily hoarding piles of your cash that you can access any time to pay bills, if you’re in the know.
The scheme, promoted in online videos as well as through emails and phone calls, tells of “secret” government bank accounts that consumers can tap to pay their bills or make purchases electronically, using their Social Security number as an account number, combined with a Federal Reserve Bank routing number — a number used by the Fed to sort and process payments between banks.
In July, several regional Federal Reserve Banks, including the Atlanta Fed, home to the office that handles most payments involving checking accounts, issued statements warning the public.
“Any video, text, email, phone call, flier or website that describes how to pay bills using a Federal Reserve Bank routing number or using an account at the Federal Reserve Bank is a scam,” the warning from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said.
The Atlanta Fed’s statement said, in part, that the Federal Reserve provides banking services only for banks: “Individuals do not have accounts at the Federal Reserve.”
“It is important for consumers to know that when making online or e-check bill payments, they cannot use Federal Reserve routing numbers,” the Atlanta Fed added.
So, no, there is no secret federal bank account. And if you pretend that you do have one, your payment will be rejected and returned unpaid.
From the end of June to Aug. 15, nearly 107,000 payments, totaling “in excess” of $100 million, have been reversed because of the scam, said Jean Tate, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Fed, in an email.
People who have tried to pay bills using the fictitious accounts may be charged penalty fees and late fees from the merchants they were trying to pay. The payments have been made to utilities and online merchants that allow customers to pay online using checking account information, Ms. Tate said.
The scheme has created an online duel of sorts. On one side are proponents of the scam who explain how to do it, in videos that feature authoritative voice-overs while displaying images of Social Security cards. (One popular version was removed from YouTube, Ms. Tate said, but has resurfaced.) On the other side are videos — often created by people who say they tried the method, only to end up having the payments reversed — warning people away from the scam.
It’s not clear what the ultimate goal of those promoting the payment scheme is; Ms. Tate declined to speculate on their motives. “To our knowledge,” she said, “the consumers who have attempted to make payments using Federal Reserve routing numbers and their Social Security numbers have not given their information to fraudsters.”
Still, consumers should be wary if they are contacted in any way about the scheme because any scam involving a Social Security number suggests that one motive may be identity theft, said Lois C. Greisman, associate director of the division of marketing practices at the Federal Trade Commission. “The unfortunate thing about scammers,” she said, “is that they’re creative.”
“Consumers should protect their confidential information and not fall victim to these types of scams that seem too good to be true,” said Jane Larimer, executive vice president and general counsel at the Electronic Payments Association. She said the scheme was akin to ripping a check out of someone else’s checkbook without that person’s knowledge, and using it to make a payment.
The New York Fed said that law enforcement agencies, including the F.B.I., had been notified and that the Federal Reserve banks were cooperating in the investigations. “Individuals who participate in such schemes could face criminal charges,” the New York Fed said.
The F.B.I. declined to comment on the investigation, but said it takes “all allegations of these crimes seriously,” and encourages anyone who has fallen victim or who has information to report it to the agency.
The Treasury Department has also noted a variation of the scam involving the use of routing numbers from different federal agencies.
At least one state, Michigan, warned consumers that they cannot pay their state tax bills using federal routing numbers.
Here are some questions and answers about payment fraud:
What if I tried to pay a bill using the account scheme and incurred fees?
If you tried to use the bogus payment technique and were charged a returned-payment fee, or ended up paying a late fee because your legitimate payment was then delayed, you could ask the billing company to reverse the fee, said Lauren Saunders, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. But the payees may be unsympathetic.
Even if the scheme is not a “scam” in the classic sense, she said, it’s certainly “bad advice that’s going to hurt you.”
Where can I find information about identifying payment scams?
The Federal Trade Commission tracks various scams on its website.
Where can I complain if I have received an email, call or other solicitation about the scam?
Top 10 Online Bill Pay & Electronic Payment Services in India
Now paying your electricity, gas, water and other utility bills is not a headache. You do not have to stand in a long queue to pay your bills.
There are various online services in India that allows you to pay bills online. With the help of just one click you get to pay all your utility bills in one go.
Here I have jotted down a list of top 10 best online bill payment websites in the country.
Almost every one of the following services offers free bill payment option. For details what every website is offering you need to visit each of them.
Top 10 Online Bill Pay & Electronic Payment Services
Although you can pay your bills from your banks website but these 10 services also provide a better & convenient way to pay your bills.
Bill Desk is one of the top online bill paying services in the country. You can pay all of your utility bills like telephone bills, electricity bills, cell phone bills even credit card bills.
However the bill desk service is only available at cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Chandigarh. It is not available all over the country but only in top cities.
You all know about Paytm. You could not only top up your mobile phone but also pay your utility bills on Paytm.
You could pay bills online like your Landline bill payment, electricity bill payment, Internet bill payment, gas bill payment.
However, Paytm accepts bill for customers of certain companies only. The site has various options for paying bills.
Third on our list is Maha Vitaran. It is a service offered by Maharashtra government.
Only residents of the state can access this web service and it accepts only electricity bills.
Here you could pay bills in just 3 steps. At citizen portal you could pay all kinds of utility bills.
For example you can pay electricity bills, water bills (for metro), telephone bills, internet bills and mobile payment of certain cellular companies.
Citizen Portal is integrated with HDFC Bank, SBI Bank, Axis Bank and Indian Bank direct debit facility.
Bijli Bachao is also a great way to pay your bills. However the online service is limited for paying your electricity bills only.
Here you could pay bills for almost every electricity company.
At Suvidha you get to pay all kinds of bills. Suvidha is one of the best online bill payment options.
You could pay bills for Landline, gas, electricity, data card and even insurance.
You don’t have to pay any extra charges for paying your bills and it is free of cost.
At Visa Bill Pay services you could pay utility bills like electricity, gas and even cellular phones.
There is no extra transaction charges while making bill payment so you can go ahead and enjoy its services.
Making bill payment is very easy here because of user interface.
Oxigen Wallet is electricity bill and telephone bills & internet bills only. You cannot pay bills for gas or water.
You earn points for paying your electricity bills. You earn 100 points for a bill payment for Rs 100 or more.
The second last service in our list is Pay Point India. It is one of the fastest growing online bill payment services in India.
You could pay all your bills at one stop with ease and comfort. Apart from utility bills you could pay bills for mobile, DTH etc.
The last bill payment service is Bill Junction. The site is mainly for electricity and telephone bills. It also allows you to pay cell phone bills.
So these were top online bill payment services in India. Visit these websites and find out more what they are offering.