Yesterday our electric bill arrived in the mail, and the energy use figures were ridiculous. I was just about to call the electric company to ask what was going on… when I noticed something on the bill that I hadn’t seen there before… the word “ESTIMATED.” So my first question to the company representative was why was our bill marked “ESTIMATED”… and I was told that the meter reader was unable to actually read our meter this month. Because of what they called “adverse weather conditions,” the electric company had decided to compensate by estimating how much energy they thought we had used during the past month. For some unknown reason they decided to bill us for more energy than we had used either last month or the same month last year. The electric company representative told me not to worry that we had been overcharged… and that when the meter reader comes and actually reads the meter next month, all of the figures will be sorted out.

But it was something else that happened during this call that disturbed me. When I first told the representative that I had a question about my bill, she told me that before she could talk to me, I needed to give her my Social Security number and my date of birth. Well… we don’t give out our Social Security numbers or private information unless it is absolutely necessary, so I said I didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information. The representative then said that if I preferred, she could positively identify me with my date of birth and driver’s license number. I said I didn’t want to give that information either and asked why that kind of security was necessary when all I wanted was some general information about the bill. Her answer was that it was a new federal regulation and that because of terrorism and identity theft concerns, the government now requires that all electric company representatives positively verify the customer’s identity at the beginning of each support call. She said that the electric company can’t require that customers give them a Social Security number, but they can (and do) require that customers give them two out of the three possibilities of Social Security number, date of birth, or driver’s license number.


This owl kept a close watch on our bird feeder until we scared him away

I continued to refuse to give any one of those three pieces of information, and the representative said she was breaking the rule to talk to me at all, even though my question had been very general and did not involve any specific information about our account. Before I hung up, I asked the representative how my Social Security number, date of birth, or driver’s license number would help them to identify me because I knew I had never given them any of this information in the first place (and that they had never asked for it before). She admitted that it actually would serve no purpose at the moment, because the new regulation had just gone into effect, but that even as we were speaking the federal government was updating the electric company’s databases, and after the update was complete they WOULD have access to the identity information, even if I still refuse to give it to them.

So that means that the federal government… without our consent… is sharing our personal identity information with electric companies around the United States. And if they’re doing that with electric companies, they are probably doing the same with telephone companies, gas companies, and other utilities as well. We are constantly being warned to keep up our guard against identity theft… to be very careful about giving out our personal information… and to never give out our Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary.

I wish we could trust the federal government to show the same restraint.

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Comments

nuri

I hate estimates on my electric and gas bill. Annoys me, because I like seeing the actual difference from month to month.

I must admit, until you said you hadn’t given them the information in the first place, my call center heart was steeled and I would have hated to take your call.

Then you said you had never provided it. Wow, that’s totally not cool. Not cool at all. (of course, when the government needs help with large databases of people, they come to my company for the information, since we have one of the largest!)

ChristyACB

It is unfortunately the way we are going. Society is simply to big to just be a person, we have to be a series of un-mixable numerical sequences.

Do let us know what happened with the actual usage when you find out. I’m curious to know! I’m doing the same thing in a smaller way at my house.

David

That’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve been afraid of for some time, the more people have access to your personal information, the more it gets passed around from place to place. I figure my personal information should be given out on a “need-to-know” basis and I don’t see why an electric company should need to know my SS#.

Natalie

I agree. If I’m applying for a loan or a credit card or anything else concerning payments, then it makes sense that I would have to give my Social security number. But for other purposes like utilities it does not make sense and it’s just another example of how the government has invaded our privacy.

Tom S.

And isn’t that just like a government regulation? They can’t make you give your Social Security number, but they can make you give two out of three. Don’t they know that your driver’s license number has your Social Security number embedded in it? This just isn’t fair. I don’t mind giving information that needs to be given, but this doesn’t need to be given. It is a gross invasion of personal rights.

grace

This is simply un-believable, I do not know where all this is going but I think I may be going somewhere else and very soon! Our fore fathers would be ashamed of how our government is now being run.

Rose

Our world has gone mad. “Come Quickly Lord Jesus.”

Vic

We too suffer from the “estimates” here with our power bill. I found out about this while joking one time during a blizzard that kept us snowbound for a few days. Come to find out, it is standard practice for the electric company to never even come out during winter here for those adverse weather conditions. sadly I know too many companies require a social security number for employment, and the use of it has gone beyond the intended use for over the length of my lifetime.
If you want to see it stopped, the only cure is to give it back. It is not supposed to be used for Identification, it is supposed to be used for Voluntary taxation. I won’t go into all the sordid details, but you can find those on line if you choose to look. Even so, once you give it back, expect harassment, and other problems from anywhere outside your home, and apparently now in it too.

Marigene

I think if the government wants us to use a number for identifying an electric customer they should be be giving one that is completely separate from our social security number.

In my opinion the meter reader is getting paid a salary for something he has not done……..not acceptable in my book.

April

Well that’s a scary post all the way around. The electric company guesses what you owe them (makes me want to live totally off the grid), they identify you by your personal information that anyone could use to steal your identity (does happen), and then the government is linking all of our records together in a neat little package? Frightening.

PC

The utility company here is going to be changing our meters to ones that can be read remotely by a computer. I spoke to the meter reader and the company is eliminating routes and laying off this staff yet they just asked for a rate increase with the Illinois Commerce Commission. Ameren got a rate increase last year too.

I’m putting aside money now for getting a wood stove. I loved the photo of your wood stove. I remember an elderly Italian immigrant neighbor who had a wood cook stove and the time in her kitchen while she was baby-sitting me as a child. Lovely memories. The only place we have for a wood stove is in the living room however and not nearly enough room for a cook stove. My former home had fireplaces and I truly miss having a secondary source of heat. Especially after the terrible ice storms in late January.

I also put a shortcut to this blog on my desktop and intend to read each and every entry. Thank you for putting this information out there to inspire me. The ideas are flowing as I read your blog.

I was recently downsized from my job so this type of information is truly useful.

Sarah

Thank you for this post. I just found when my electric company asked for my husbands social security number I was taken aback. I told the rep we don’t give out our social security number. She said, “It doesn’t matter we have it anyway.” I said, “How do you have it if we never gave it to you?!” She said, “We have a way to look it up.” So much for protecting our social security numbers. Thank you for this post. It helped confirm what the rep said and why it happened. This is very upsetting. As a web database administrator, I find it upsetting they are using this piece of information as personal identification. The chance for identify theft dramatically increases as the number of people increase who have access to this sensitive information.

alan

I had the same issue with starting an account at the electric company. I refused to give my SS number, and they made me come to the office personally to show myself and be photographed! I drove 45 miles one way to get there. Absurd!

Another tip: my state, massachusetts, allows drivers to choose an alternate number for their license. I did. So when you give it out, it’s not linked directly to the ss number…. or atleast as far as i know.

lastly, i understand that no one except the treasury/social security can demand your number. It’s illegal for all others to demand it, though they can and do ask for it.

C

After I moved to my new residence I was told flat out by the electric company that I couldn’t even get Electric Service turned on at all if I did NOT provide my SS#. Period!

I would love to be able to live in America without a SS# at all, and not even pay into the governements broke SS system. I do not desire SS to take care of me when I’m old. Not only that, but I was given a SS# at birth, I did not sign for one, or ever request to have one.

Unfortunately, to live in this country, if you need basic admenities like electricity, or a roof over your head either you provide a SS# or you sleep on the cold street and remain homeless.

It’s almost reminance of something I read in the book of Revelation about the Mark of the Beast. I either bow down and worship the Beast, and be good little communist with a SS# used under the color of law for Peace and Safety for the common good to protect us from terrorist, or I starve and sleep in the cold without running water and electricity. This is extortion!!!

These companies say they are protecting you from Identity Theft by requiring a SS#. My argument is if we didn’t have to have a SS# in first place, there would be no Identity Theft to worry about! Nobody could steal your identity using a SS# if you didn’t have one!!

Land of the Free My Foot!

R and E

We just went through the same scenario with trying to rent a home in a remote part of MT, and another outside of Sandpoint, ID… cabin on a 1-year lease, cash paid in full at signing of lease. Both property management companies insisted on our SSNs, and wanted to run credit, criminal, and full background checks on us. We refused to provide our SSNs because they did not have a valid reason to have that information. We stood on our principles, and walked away from the homes, but not until we made sure that both companies knew why.

Even the SSA website states that private companies do not need to know or use your SSNs, and that you should have them cite the law that requires them to know, what purpose it would serve, and to give alternative ID. It is even illegal for states to use your SSN as your drivers license numbers and you should go and ask for a new drivers license if it does. It is within your right to have a new one at no additional cost. However, if the private companies insist on the SSN, then you have the right to walk away and not do business with them.

To the comment of C? Did the electric company offer to set up an account with a higher deposit, without the SSN? That is the only option that they can provide. They CANNOT, by law, deny you service based on the refusal of providing your SSN. That is creating a monopolized exclusionary system, because they are usually the only game in town. So, my suggestion, if they didn’t say you could set up an account with a deposit, or a larger than normal deposit, then you should find yourself a lawyer and take them to task over it.

Bee Dee

I find this post quite interesting. I have also been asked for my SS# by the Doctor’s office. Now why would they need that information at all? It is none of their business. They wanted my childen’s numbers as well. I was flabbergasted. I questioned my Doctor about this and they could not understand why this was asked or needed. I agreed and put in a complaint. So next time I went in, they asked for it again. I stated I will never give you this number so note in my records. My insurance has this number on every form they have, so there is absolutely no reason for more people out there, to be noting my very personal information in their computer records. By the way this Doctor’s office computers had been hacked and SS#s had been stolen. Interesting indeed.

Leighlee

I was just told that I did not give my SS#, I could not have gas service turned on in South Carolina. I not only had to give them my SS# but my DOB, and my last address, that I lived at for more than a year. THEN…I had to allow them to run a credit check on my or I would have to pay a $300 deposit. I fought it but I lost because they are the only gas company and I needed it turned on for the next day. I am truly upset and feel violated…Is this legal?

Michele

This has been bothering me as well. So, here’s my question. If you MUST have one to turn on services, etc. then HOW are the undocumented persons in the country illegally getting theirs turned on? I haven’t noticed any without utilities.

Yande Thomas

While you guys are speaking on social security numbers I just applied over the phone for prepaid electricity. They have advertised all over their website they do not do credit checks. However, they asked for my birthdate. I found that strange. I recently read where the credit bureaus are allowing companies with just your name and your birthdate to perform “Matches”. The credit bureaus will release your social to them. They technically don’t need your social. All they need again is your name, address and birthdate and a match is pulled up.

But here’s the kicker. I lied to the guy about my birthdate. I told him I was born in 1980. My call dropped and I had to call back in. When I called back in he repeated what I had said and mentioned “I see you were born in xx-xx-1978! That is my REAL BIRTHDATE! I asked him where did he get that information from. He said “Oh I just guessed”. What on earth?

The credit bureaus make all sorts of money now from allowing companies to do things like this. It is misrepresenting to the public that they don’t do credit checks when they can still verify someone’s identity. The credit bureaus now also let companies do credit inquiries that don’t even show up as an inquiry! They use to only let the IRS do that but now they are opening that up to all companies.

What I will do tomorrow is write a letter to the Texas Public Utilities Commission that regulates these companies and ask them to specifiy “What checks” does the company do. I honestly think they are misrepresenting to the public the “no credit check” when they still do backdoor checks.

This is important because I’m trying to live under the grid and its impossible to do that when someone runs your credit and notifies the credit bureaus of where you live. That is how the credit bureaus keep updating their information on us such as addresses and phone numbers. When we file applications whether they be employment or credit, the credit bureaus ask for this information and automatically updates it in their system.

I am highly frustrated with this company. HIGHLY FRUSTRATED.