A family have been left outraged after their 86-year-old mother was unwittingly signed up to an energy company and hit with almost $4,000 of bills, despite living in a nursing home at the time, the ABC reports.
Joan Ford, who suffers from dementia, lives in View Hills Manor nursing home in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne, which includes all utility bills in its overall residency fees.
However, despite all her energy usage being covered, the site reports she was hit with a $1,384 electricity bill from provider 1st Energy in June – addressed to her unit at the home.
The monumental mistake was only discovered when Joan’s daughter Patricia Matthys and son-in-law Mark Matthys found the letter, and Mark told ABC Radio Melbourne that Joan had no idea what it was or why she would have received it.
“How on earth would it even be possible to make up an account for a person who doesn’t actually have anything to pay for?” He said on air.
After contacting the provider, the family were reportedly told the problem would be fixed, however a second bill for more than $2,584 then arrived for the following month. On top of that, Joan also reportedly received two reminder notices and a phone call from a collection agency.
“They just target you on a whim from a phone call and it’s causing a lot of anxiety and stress to my mother-in-law,” Mark added.
Cynthia Gebert, Victoria’s energy and water ombudsman, told the ABC she didn’t know how the bills could ever have been worked out to total so much, as nursing home units are not usually individually metered.
The energy provider has since resolved the issue and luckily Joan did not have to pay the bills. Meanwhile, a 1st Energy spokeswoman confirmed they had apologised for the mix up – due to “human error”.
It comes after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a warning to over-60s earlier this year, urging them to beware of scammers impersonating energy and telecommunications providers after a surge of complaints.
“Older Australians should particularly be wary of emails pretending to be from utility companies, with people over 65 reporting the most fake utility billing scam incidents,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
The scammers typically pose as well-known companies such as Origin, AGL, Telstra and Optus via email, “to fool people into assuming the bills are real”, Rickard said.
“They send bulk emails or letters which include a logo and design features closely copied from the genuine provider. The bill states the account is overdue and if not paid immediately the customer will incur late charges or be disconnected. Alternatively, the bill may claim that the customer has overpaid and is owed a refund or it may simply say the bill is due and ready to pay.”