News Feature | June 30, 2014

Utility Accused Of Fake Numbers On Bills

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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A utility in Massachusetts is under investigation for doctoring fake numbers on customers' bills.

"A veteran city department head's investigation into exorbitant bills issued by the Lowell Regional Water Utility revealed 'very disturbing billing practices' at the utility, including what was termed 'manual manipulation' of billing numbers by an employee," the Lowell Sun reported

The issue came to light when customers began reporting gigantic numbers on their water bills earlier this year. 

"The case of a Parker Street property owner who in recent months received an $8,000 water bill after years of receiving bills of no more than $140 is not an isolated incident," the Lowell Sun reported in May. 

Another customer, Carolann Ramsden, said her bill was $10,000 for December usage. 

According to the investigative report published in June, Lowell Regional Water Utility was using questionable billing practices. "Billing numbers were being manually manipulated where there was no reason to do so," the report said, according to the Sun. Meter readers said a manager told them "not to bother trying to get readings at certain accounts." 

"Meter readers also spoke of the issue that some of the reading numbers were changed by the billing administrator once they were downloaded into his computer," the investigative report said, per the Sun

The author of the investigation noted that the manager likely did not have bad intentions.

"It is my opinion that the billing administrator was not malicious in his attempt to change numbers in accounts to deceive the citizens of Lowell but did it so that it would not come to the attention of his supervisor as he was afraid of confrontation with the director," the author said. 

The same utility made headlines just days earlier during a personnel shakeup. 

"Lowell Regional Water Utility Executive Director Daniel Lahiff submitted his resignation, marking an end to his tenure leading a department that for the last few years has faced a series of scandals, the latest being residents hit with exorbitant water bills," the Sun reported in an earlier piece. 

Check out Water Online's Utility Management Solution Center.

Image credit: "$1 bill Cut by Scissors," Images_of_Money © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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