LW Utilities customers report fraudulent charges

LW Utilities customers report fraudulent charges
Lake Worth Utilities customers reporting fraudulent charges on accounts after potential breach

After the City of Lake Worth announced a potential data breach of the third-party vendor the city uses to process online utility payments, customers are now reporting fraudulent charges on the same bank accounts they use to pay their utility bills.

"I see that there's a charge for 40.16 for an Uber. I haven't taken an Uber in a year," said Julie Nethersole, who lives in Lake Worth.

"I see a 99 dollar charge for Uber. I've never taken an Uber," said Johnpaul Parkerson, a Lake Worth Utilities customer.

Dozens of Lake Worth Utilities customers are posting about their inexplicable charges on social media.

"All of the charges are matching charges that other Lake Worth Utilities customers are having and we've been comparing them on the Facebook group and that's what led me to believe that that's where it's coming from," Nethersole said.

Although there is no way to definitively connect those charges to a recent breach, Lake Worth uses Click2Gov for online utility billing, which has reported more than one breach this year.

"I found charges as far back as April of this year," Nethersole said. "As far as I know, it's over 500 dollars."

Nethersole said she monitors her account weekly, but the first several fraudulent charges were small and slipped past her, as she was pregnant at the time and working. Now, she worries she won't be able to get reimbursed for all of the charges because of the amount of time that has already lapsed.

"Every dollar counts and we have a child that we need to provide for," she said.

Right now, the city is working to change the third party vendor it uses for utility payments, but Public Information Officer Benn Kerr said that could take months.

In the meantime, customers can pay by phone, drop off a check in the drop box by the parking lot at the City Hall Annex, or pay in person at the City Hall Annex, but the in-person payments incur a processing fee.

"We pay by check at the business because years ago, they had the same issue here, so we've always just sent the check out," said Parkerson, who manages Palm Beach Shooting Center in Lake Worth.

Alan Crowetz, NewsChannel 5's internet security expert and CEO of InfoStream, said breaches are going to happen these days and people need to protect themselves.

"The bad guys are getting better than the good guys," he said.

Crowetz recommends closely watching all accounts and using various, complex passwords. Apps like LastPass can help with passwords. There are free services that can monitor credit card accounts.

"If someone steals the password to your video game who cares? But if it's the same password you use on your banking site, then we got a real problem," he said.

As for paying for bills or goods online, Crowetz recommends credit cards over debit cards because there are more protections in place for recovering fraudulent charges on credit cards. He also said paying directly through a bank can help.

"The banks seem to be doing a better security job than the municipalities and the businesses," he said.

Another option to better protect your information is to sign up for two-factor verification, which Facebook even offers these days, Crowetz said.

"Sends a little text to your phone that says 'is this you?' that you have to accept to let you on," he said.

Crowetz offers a free downloadable guide on credit card security here: www.infostream.cc/creditcard