Beware third-party scammers! That’s the word from Texas regulators, who say unscrupulous vendors have begun targeting consumers attempting to access legitimate government-sponsored utility assistance.
At issue is the state’s COVID 19 Electricity Relief Program, created last month by the Texas Public Utility Commission. Under it, Texans under COVID-19 financial duress can avoid non-payment disconnections and utility late fees.
But the agency also warns against third-party vendors promising help with the enrollment process. Many of these vendors could be identity-theft scammers, according to PUC staff. Instead, enroll in the program yourself — or get a trusted family member or legal representative to do so for you.
“I have directed agency staff to look into reports of companies using online advertising to promote a ‘service’ to enroll customers in the ERP,” said PUC Executive Director John Paul Urban III, using the acronym for the Electricity Relief Program.
“Consumers need to know that all attempted enrollments in this unauthorized manner will be rejected,” continued Urban. “They should also be concerned about putting their personal financial information at risk in an online scam.”
Relief Program Bars Disconnections
The COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program bars retail electric providers in deregulated areas of the state from disconnecting enrollees for non-payment. The program also requires REPs to waive late payment fees. The order does not affect municipally owned utilities and electric cooperatives, but it does cover major utilities in non-ERCOT areas. Major protections under the program will remain in place until May 15, and could be extended.
Under the PUC rules, residential customers seeking ERP assistance must self enroll. If a medical condition or technological limitation prevents the customer from doing so, agency rules permit a family member or authorized legal representative to complete the process.
The PUC encourages customers to report any suspected fraudulent activity to its customer protection division, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 888-782-8477. Find more information about the ERF here.
Is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.