Glitch sparks frenzy over MLGW bills; rumors of Z-Bo donation false

Published: Jul. 8, 2017 at 2:02 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 10, 2017 at 5:54 AM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A technical glitch and a false social media rumor are being blamed for a wild and at times frantic day for MLGW and their customers.

Lines at MLGW payment kiosks were out the doors at some places, and customers couldn't believe their eyes when they looked at their accounts.

Rumors surfaced on social media that former Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph donated $1 million to pay people's Memphis Light, Gas, and Water bills.

Phones starting ringing off the hook at WMC Action News 5 with viewers wondering if the rumor was fake.

Others across the city decided to brave the summer heat to stand in long lines at MLGW kiosks around the city, hoping it was true.

One of the people waiting in line was Tanaka Chatmon. After hearing the rumor, she immediately headed to a nearby kiosk. The machine showed her bill, which had been $570, was reduced to less than $7.

"Blessed," Chatmon said. "I'm like, 'why me?' I didn't this was going to happen. I didn't know if it was true or not."

MLGW president Jerry Collins held a press conference to clarify what had happened.

"That rumor on social media was completely false," Collins said.

First, he clarified Randolph had not donated $1 million. He said a glitch in several dozen kiosks starting on Friday caused what he called a decimal point issue, causing people's receipts to be inaccurate.

It's an issue he said did not affect the company's accounting system, but could have been caused by hackers.

"That appears to be a problem with payment contractor that MLGW does business with," Collins said.

MLGW immediately shut down the problematic kiosks and will reopen them once they fix the glitch.

The company also said they will give affected customers time to get their accounts in order and will not turn off their power.

"We apologize for any inconvenience that anyone has suffered, and we want to make sure that everyone's bills are kept in a good payment status," Collins said.

It's little consolation for customers like Chatmon who will now have to pay their entire MLGW bill.

MLGW is also investigating what or who started the social media firestorm in the first place.

MLGW will also not disconnect any customer for non-payment on Monday, July 10.

Customers who have gone to an MLGW kiosk or any other payment kiosk since Friday to pay their bills need to call MLGW at 544-6549.

MLGW said 23,000 customers made payments at kiosks on Saturday. The normal for a Saturday is 800.

MLGW said it will have extended hours on Monday. The five community offices will be open from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Randolph also denied the rumor via his Twitter page.

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens released a statement regarding the MLGW issue.

During the weekend of July 08, 2017, Memphis Light, Gas, & Water Division customers were provided erroneous receipts via MLG&W's automated payment kiosks illustrating that their outstanding balances were paid in full after customers paid any dollar amount. MLG&W ratepayers were sincerely led to believe that they owed no further balance. In addition to the official documents provided by MLG&W systems, the issue was exacerbated by social media reports that Memphis Grizzlies Power Forward Zach "Z-Bo" Randolph was paying the remaining balances of ratepayers' who made partial payments on their utility bills at MLG&W kiosks.

Memphis Light Gas & Water Division officials have blamed the circumstances on a "software glitch" and viral internet hype. However, there are several more plausible explanations.

First, an unauthorized system breach, or hack, is far more likely. Municipal public sector computer systems in the United States are often some of the least protected, most vulnerable systems in existence today. And government systems are some of the most attacked systems- due to the near-guarantee that critical systems and personally identifiable information can be found there. Further, utilities are often at the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable. MLG&W, to protect its reputation, would want you to believe that Facebook posts caused the kiosk incident.

Moreover, there is significant legal liability involved in not properly securing critical systems… criminal and civil liability. Also, there are often damages that are owed to all whose data was breached or affected. In other words, MLG&W possibly owes YOU money if your data was compromised or manipulated. MLG&W would want to potentially lessen the likelihood that they would have to pay ratepayers for not securing their accounts, or personal data. So, Facebook and Z-Bo did it.

Finally, it is just as likely that the City's officials decided to strategically drop a fabricated story sure to dominate a news cycle in order to distract from the anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the City of Memphis- the I-40 bridge shutdown (occurring this weekend, being recognized Sunday, June 09, 2017). While the event was a triumphant and momentous occasion for the advancement of civil rights and social justice in Memphis, it was devastating to those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and keeping people oppressed and economically disadvantaged.

The progress that has been made in the past year from the I-40 bridge demonstrations to present will continue. It cannot be minimized, or detracted. From an invigorated social justice community winning legislative, economic, and community victories to increased attention being paid to those who choose to take, rob, and oppress the Citizens at large… the movement will continue. The Coalition of Concerned Citizens will hold Memphis Light, Gas & Water accountable for whatever occurred- whether it be a hack or a false flag story designed to subvert the anniversary of one for the most significant events in Memphis history.

No matter what caused or contributed to the payment kiosk incident, unknowing ratepayers should not have to pay for the errors, negligence, or purposeful trickery of Memphis, Light, Gas & Water. According to MLGW's own internal policies and relevant statutes- every ratepayer is guaranteed a hearing before disconnection. We encourage everyone who fell victim to the kiosk incident to file for a hearing to explain their circumstances. We demand that MLG&W honor the information that they provided to ratepayers regarding their $0.00 balances. If this demand is in any way illegal or unconstitutional, we then ask that MLGW utilize its statutory authority to grant ratepayers up to the full 72 months MLG&W is authorized to bestow without disconnection in order that ratepayers have a fair opportunity to remit monies owed without disrupting the finances of a large percentages of the third most impoverished metropolitan area in the United States.

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens will continue to hold every individual, group, entity, organization, and oligarch accountable for any and all actions that present an unwarranted adversity to any Citizen at large.

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.