Security & Fraud

Seattle Utility Customers Privy To Confidential Data

Customers of Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities had a lot to gossip about on Sunday and Monday this past weekend when the utility companies’ new public utilities billing system malfunctioned. Emails were sent out that showed private details and utility usage of other customers, but the company states that the mistake was data-related and not a hack or cyberattack.

It might come as a bit of a shock if you receive someone else’s utility bill, particularly if that person’s house is twice the size of yours and uses twice the utilities. But that’s what happened to customers of Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities on Sunday (Sept. 4) night and into Monday.

The City of Seattle was busy trying to fix a glitch that sent links to over 3,000 people in error. The links showed other people’s bills, including their names, addresses, utility usage and account numbers. These customers were also sent notification emails that were redundant.

The mailings marked the launch of Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities’ new billing system.

Fortunately, the emailed bills did not include Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card information, and the city blames a technical hiccup for the mistake rather than a hack or cyberattack.

How many people actually opened the links is not known, but the system was shut down a little less than an hour after the problem was reported on Monday morning, according to a press release. And the system was back online Monday evening.

According to Scott Thomsen, City Light spokesman: “There was an error on what we sent to KUBRA,” which is the third-party billing company used by the city. The new system worked properly during final validation tests. “This appears to be a data issue of some sort that we need to sort out. We did anticipate, with any new system, there’s the potential for problems like this to crop up.”

The new system replaces the outdated system that is 15-years-old and no longer supported by its vendor. The updated system went over budget by $34 million and was a year late in its launch.

Oracle and PwC, along with city staff, developed the system, which is expected to collect $1.8 million in annual revenue.

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