Seattle utilities' flaw gives customers access to other users' bills

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Seattle is working to find the flaw that exposed some Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light customers' personal information to other customers.

Seattle’s newly launched billing system had a data flaw that flooded 3,041 customers with redundant email notices and a link showing other people’s bills, the utility said.

All the affected bills were in a batch dated Sept. 4 and sent Sept. 5. 

The system, which launched over the holiday weekend, gave thousands of customers access to other customers’ names, addresses and billing information.

The problem affected a small group in the batch of 30,000 utility bills issued in the system launch.  

SPU says no bank account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or similar financial data were exposed.  City Light and SPU will contact all customers who are affected by the error. 

As soon as the problem was discovered, the SPU and City Light shut down access to the online e-billing system. Monday evening, service was restored for customers to pay bills issued before Sept. 4.
 
Customers have been assigned new account numbers with the change. Anyone who uses online banking to pay utility bills should update the account number to ensure proper payment.
 

The new billing system, operated by a third-party vendor, also serves water, sewer and garbage customers through Seattle Public Utilities.

But City Light spokesman Scott Thomson, who apologized for the mistake, told KIRO 7 the mistake was made internally. He also admitted that the problem wouldn't have been caught this early if a customer had not called in. 

The new billing system was already a year late and $34 million over budget, according to The Seattle Times.

Answers to frequently asked questions about the technical error are available online at www.seattle.gov/util/NewBillingSystem/billErrors/index.htm.
Answers to questions and other information about the new system are available online at www.seattle.gov/billingchanges.
 
Timeline of events:
  • 3:30 a.m. - Email notifications of the utility bills dated Sept. 4 are sent.
  • 9:48 a.m. - Email bill notification problem identified. 
  • 10:30 a.m. - Utilities shut down online billing.
  • 6:40 p.m. - Online billing system restored for customers with bills dated before Sept. 4.