Phoenix landlords beware of tenants switching water service

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Jian Wu said one of his now-former tenants committed fraud and pretended to be him to get water from the City of Phoenix. (Source: CBS 5) Jian Wu said one of his now-former tenants committed fraud and pretended to be him to get water from the City of Phoenix. (Source: CBS 5)
The tenant lived in the property for the final two months racking up $182 in water usage charges in Wu's name. (Source: CBS 5) The tenant lived in the property for the final two months racking up $182 in water usage charges in Wu's name. (Source: CBS 5)
LAVEEN, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A Phoenix water customer says the process of establishing service may require landlords to take steps to prevent tenant fraud.

One of the first things a new tenant does is contact the City and establish water service in their own name. But what's to stop that tenant from committing fraud and later switching service back to the landlord's name to avoid paying?

Jian Wu is looking for a new tenant for his Laveen property. Wu says back in July 2016, right after he evicted a tenant for non-payment of rent, he called the City of Phoenix Water Services Department to put service back in his name.

"And then they told me, 'Oh, that address is already under your name from two months ago in May," Wu said.

It seems Wu's tenant had not paid his water bill and his service was disconnected. Wu says the tenant then called Phoenix Water, pretended to be Wu, said he was moving back into the property, and started water service in Wu's name.

"First, I did not request this to be made. Second, how could the City allow someone using my name to start service," Wu asked?

The tenant lived in the property for the final two months racking up $182 in water usage charges in Wu's name. Wu wants to know why the City didn't have safeguards against this.

"How could you guys start service without checking with me, without verifying," Wu asked.

Wu says after listening to audio from the tenant's call, Phoenix Water told him he wasn't responsible but then sent him letters every month for a year saying he was. Every month he thinks the matter is resolved, but now, it's in collections.

"They send this bill to a collection company and let the collection company harass me," Wu said.

The City of Phoenix Water Services Department confirmed for CBS 5 News that Wu is not responsible, won't get any more bills, and his account has been removed from collections. Our thanks to the Water Services Department for moving swiftly on this complaint.

Phoenix Water also tells CBS 5 News that their representatives are trained to look for red flags when verifying the person they're speaking to really is the person they say they are. But it's not an exact science. Here is their statement:

"The Water Services Department (WSD) has over 420,000 active accounts and the vast majority of our customers are trust-worthy.  Although rare, there are some individuals who may attempt to start service in another person’s name.  To help identify and/or prevent identify theft, WSD Customer Service staff are trained on the Red Flags Rule program created by the federal government. When “red flags” are raised on a particular property, staff will request additional information or documentation, such as Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), leases, deeds, telephone numbers.  If the individual comes into a pay station, photo identification is requested and copied."

To protect themselves against tenant fraud like this, CBS 5 News recommends all landlords establish a password on their account that must be provided when making any changes in the landlord's name.

Here is information from WSD on how passwords can help landlords against tenant fraud:

"If someone tries to modify any of the accounts or open a separate account, using the original account holder’s information, he or she would be required to provide the password. The password would also trigger an alert (a red flag) for the customer service representative, who may require additional documentation or an office visit. An account password can be requested by calling Phoenix Customer Services at 602-262-6251."

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