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CenterPoint Issues Alert

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High utility bills, a bad economy, and a tempting offer. Those are the ingredients helping scammers across the country take advantage of struggling homeowners.

While there are organizations out there that assist people with paying their bills, this offer is not one of them.

Thousands of CenterPoint Energy customers have sent their gas payments to an invalid account, believing it would help them qualify for federal utility bill assistance.

Instead those payments went to scam artists and the unpaid gas bills are now piling up.

An alert has been sent out to customers of CenterPoint Energy.

It warns of a national scam promising federal funds to help pay your utility bill.

The scam uses emails, text messages and phone calls to reach its victims.

"There were two conditions," explains Keith Cragg with CenterPoint Energy.  "They had to provide their social security number and their own personal bank routing number. Upon issuing that information they were supplied with a false routing number to which they were promised that their utility bill would be paid. Unfortunately that wasn't the case."

Cragg says CenterPoint is helping victims by not charging late fees or past due balance fees, not cutting off service and not reporting delinquent customers to credit bureaus.

"We just appreciate you helping us get the word out," says Cragg.  "It is unfortunate that people fell victim to the scam. We're gonna work in any way possible that we can to help these people through their crisis."

This scam goes far beyond CenterPoint's five state service area.

Utility customers from New Jersey to California have fallen prey to different versions of what is commonly called "The Obama utility bill scam."

CenterPoint Energy wants you to know field employees or phone agents will never ask for your social security number or banking or credit card information.

Air date:  Sept. 18th, 2012