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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scammers use cold weather as an opportunity to steal seniors’ personal and financial information

Scammers are taking advantage of our region’s severe winter to gain access to seniors’ personal and financial information.

The Ohio Development Services Agency’s Office of Community Assistance has alerted Council on Aging and other Ohio Area Agencies on Aging that clients in the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program (known as HEAP) are being contacted by someone describing themselves as a HEAP provider or from the “energy assistance program.”  The caller’s objective: bank account and Social Security information.

Ohio’s real HEAP program is a federally-funded program designed to help low-income Ohioans, including seniors, meet the high costs of home heating during cold winter months.  Eligibility is based on household size and income.  For eligible Ohioans, HEAP assistance is usually applied as a one-time credit to utility or fuel vendor bills.  HEAP assistance checks are NOT mailed to people’s homes or deposited into their bank accounts, as the scammer’s phone call suggests.  

“Scammers rarely miss an opportunity to prey on seniors, and they’ve found one in this long, cold winter,” said Theresa Bracher, manager of Council on Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Department.  Council on Aging’s ADRC Department helps seniors apply for Ohio’s HEAP benefit.  COA helped more than 2,600 seniors apply for HEAP benefits last year. 

“Everyone – especially seniors – should automatically be on alert anytime they are asked to provide personal information in order to receive a payment of some kind,” Bracher said.  

The Ohio Development Services Agency’s Office of Community Assistance is reporting that calls are coming from an 800 phone number and go something like this: 

HEAP clients are receiving calls from an agency identifying itself as a “HEAP” provider, or in some cases from “The Energy Assistance Program.”  The caller requests personal bank account information and Social Security numbers.  The caller states that “HEAP” has been awarded extra money to assist customers because of the recent cold snap and that bank account information is needed in order to deposit the money in their bank account. 

If you or someone you know receives HEAP benefits and receives a call like this, contact Council on Aging at (513) 721-1025.  Click here for information about applying for HEAP benefits.

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