Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - Updated: 10:37 AM
By Rachel Keller Collins
North Marshall Water District last week began stuffing next month’s bills with flyers warning customers to be aware of a third-party bill payment site, recently brought to their attention, that is accepting payments from their customers but is not authorized nor endorsed by the organization.
NMWD Superintendent Bobby Gifford said it was an unhappy customer who brought the issue to light, who called displeased when his water service was shut off even though he had paid the bill. But the payment wasn’t showing up in the water district’s system because it wasn’t made through the district’s official website: it was made through a third-party website. Although the money did eventually make its way to the water district, there was a time lapse because the third-party service accepting payment, doxo.com, is not affiliated with NMWD.
Gifford said he wanted to make customers aware of the difference because the customer who brought it all to light wasn’t aware of the difference. He told district officials he believed he was sending his money directly to the water district because the website had the district’s official logo, contact information, a picture of the district’s office and even a map to the district’s office.
Gifford said he’s concerned that the district’s customers might unknowingly make themselves more vulnerable to a breech of privacy by sharing personal information such as customer account numbers, name, address and credit card numbers. He said although the company does eventually forward the money to the water district, it is not a site that has a contract with the district. Therefore, he said, the district cannot guarantee the safety of the customer’s private information nor guarantee the money will reach its intended destination.
“It’s not a scam but it’s not protected and it’s not part of North Marshall Water,” Gifford said. “Once they get the customer’s information they can do whatever they want with it whereas with us, it’s protected.”
Gifford said he intends to contact the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office to see what can be done about third-party bill payment websites making it look as if their page is official, using the official logo and pictures without permission, which leads customers to believe they’re visiting the official website. In the meantime, he urges customers to type in the water district’s website, NorthMarshallWater.com, instead of doing a Google search, which could land them on an incorrect site. He also urged customers to pay close attention to the process as the unauthorized third-party’s processing fee is double and asks more questions than the district’s bill-paying system.
West Kentucky Rural Electric Company (WKRECC) is also listed on the doxo.com website and a company spokesperson said the company was made aware of the third-party bill payment system in a similar manner to that of NMWD.
WKRECC Communications & Media Relations Coordinator Georgann Lookofsky said the company is aware of two instances in which customers used a third-party bill payment website and on both occasions, the payments were made but arrived after the due date, leading to late fees for the customers. She said when the customers called regarding the late fee payments is when the company became aware of the third-party bill payment services.
“To set the record straight, West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative is NOT affiliated with any third-party payment sites. We are not in partnership with them and have not authorized them to use our materials,” she said. “The bottom line is that third-party bill payment services charge a fee and it can take several days for payments to be sent, putting users at risk for late fees. West Kentucky Rural Electric’s secure online payment process is a much better option.”
Lookofsky said WKRECC is doing its best to educate customers about payment options and included a message with October statements to make customers aware of the potential problems with third-party bill payment sites. She said WKRECC is not pursuing legal action at this time.
Lookofsky said WKRECC is reminding customers that doing a Google search for the company will likely lead them to third-party bill payment whereas typing in www.wkrecc.com, clicking on the “Billing” tab then selecting “Payment Options” should help avoid confusion by leading customers directly to the appropriate site. She said customers are also welcome to speak with customer service staff toll-free at 1-877-495-7322 with any questions or concerns.
Jessica Scillian, office manager with Benton Gas System, said Gifford contacted her last week to make her aware that Benton Gas was also on the doxo.com list and discussed the issues his customers had faced using the site. She contacted the company via email and stated Benton Gas had recently learned the website was “representing itself as a service of Benton Gas System,” notifying them that the information listed on the site for Benton Gas System was not correct and requested the site not offer bill pay services for Benton Gas System.
Scillian said she received a response from Alexandria Wilson, a representative of the company, which explained the company’s business model, saying doxo.com is a third-party account management and bill pay service offering users the ability to “manage all of their bills and important documents in one place instead of having to log in to several different accounts to pay and manage their water, electricity, credit card, etc. bills.”
Scillian said she was informed by Wilson that Benton Gas System is not currently payable through doxo.com and never has been, but “doxo is used for much more than just a bill pay site and therefore we do not remove companies that have been added by our users.”
Scillian said Benton Gas, like NMWD and WKRECC, recommends customers pay close attention to details before inputting personal information that could lead to a breech in privacy. She said Benton Gas System also recommends typing the website in the browser, BentonGas.org, instead of conducting a Google search, which could lead to third-party websites.