The scary stuff

During Hurricane Irma, I lost power by 2 pm on September 10 at my residence above.  I called and notified FPL of the outage.  It was not unexpected and FPL did a good job at addressing the power outage issues – mostly caused by vegetation.  I have been very supportive of FPL as a company because they have done a good job in addressing power, resiliency and reducing carbon impacts.

However, I was very displeased to learn that someone had closed my account at the house I own, and put it in their name.  I received both texts and emails from FPL notifying me of the issue and advising me to call if this was incorrect.  The first call I made was 9/18.  I have made at least 6 calls and talked to a customer service agent.  Each assured me FPL would address this immediately.

What is more disconcerting is that the change was apparently made on 9/11 – during the hurricane on a house that was reported to be without power 24 hours before.  No one thought this was odd.

Note my power was not restored until 9/24 and I was living at a condo in Tamarac temporarily although here daily doing cleanup and meeting various workers (including FPL crews).  Once back in my house I noted that this was not an accident with an incorrect address.  The unknown people went to Comcast and set up an account (my electrician sent them away), and attempted to get service switched by the City of Plantation and AT&T.  Both declined for not having verification they were going to live on the premises.  The City reported that they brought a fake lease (unsigned by the landlord).  ADT and People’s gas require far more data to prove residency.  The Postal Inspector’s Office launched an investigation for mail fraud.  Comcast is waiting for the City of Plantation’s police report to pursue fraud charges.

These people were/are trying to move into my house fraudulently as squatters.  This has occurred in the neighborhood previously according to my neighbors.  It takes months to get them out.  They use utility bills.  The courts have to sort it out.  FPL is the easy bill to use because you require no verification that the people applying for service have a legitimate reason to make the change.  This facilitates the fraud.

I brought this to the attention of a customer service rep, nice guy but could not tell me why on October 2, the change of the account back into my name was still not made, and his supervisor kept telling me it was FPL’s policy not to deny anyone service and the r was some legal precedent for this.  This is both incorrect and unhelpful.

There is no reason FPL should not require some proof that a person applying for service has a legitimate reason to do so.  That should be a fully executed deed or lease.  Failing to do this make FPL complicit in the fraud these people are enacting because they are using FPL bills to verify their residency.  That puts the legitimate residents at a major disadvantage against the criminal element.  Other utilities do it.  Other power companies do it.  There is no legal or legitimate reason FPL does not do this.

FPL needs to alter this policy immediately and perhaps the PSC should be the entity that forces them to do so.  On-line service availability is great, but when a change in service is requested some form of verification is needed that the person will be living there or be responsible (like an elderly parent).  Their customer service supervisor said there “was nothing to worry about because a social security number is required.”  Entering a social security number from stolen identity is too easy, and does not address the problem – anyone can change any account fraudulently and leave FPL and the homeowners stuck with a bill.

Their customer service person also said there was no way to flag an account for fraud – but all the other utilities I talked to that were contacted or impacted by this activity has made a note that criminals were attempting to squat on the property and not to change the accounts without contacting the homeowner (me).  There is no reason FPL cannot enact a means and policy to do this immediately as well.

Hopefully by the time you read this, my account and the legal issues have been resolved for now.  I do not want this to occur again in the future for me or any other customer.  There are therefore two policy changes that will help protect the next person – require verification of residency or responsibility and note accounts that have had nefarious activity attempted against them.

I am hopeful that all water and sewer utilities have safeguards like Plantation.  If not, let’s get on it.


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