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Independence utility payments back online

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

The city of Independence’s online utility payment portal, which had been offline since an attempted ransomware attack about three weeks ago, is back in use. 

The city posted on social media Wednesday afternoon that some customers could have trouble accessing the site initially due to online traffic volume.

According to a city release, payment information entered on the site is provided directly to the city’s payment processor and is not maintained in Independence’s city systems. The city had taken the payment site and other services offline as a precautionary measure while trying to recover from the ransomware attack, and staff continues to investigate the attack. 

When paper and electronic billing resumes, customers who did not receive a November statement will receive those statements, and no customers will receive a December billing statement. The January billing statement will cover both December and January, and the days in the billing cycle will vary depending on when meters were last read. Any credit on a customer’s account will apply toward any new charges.

Customers can request an extended payment arrangement for longer-than-usual billing cycles by contacting customer services at 816-325-7930 or utilitycustomerservice@indepmo.org.

The city was waived late-payment penalties and fees, as well as credit card fees, until further notice. Shut-offs for residential and commercial customers have been suspended until at least Jan. 30. 

All payment forms will be accepted beginning Monday. The Independence Utilities Center, 17221 E. 23rd St. is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; the drive-thru is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is also a night drop box at City Hall, 111 E. Maple Ave., available 24/7 for customers to leave payments.

For those who need assistance with utility payments, CARES Act is available through Wednesday via the Community Services League by applying at CSLhousing.org. Funds in the regular ratepayer assistance program could also be available. 

A ransomware attack is a form of cyberattack that locks up a computer or computer system, which can severely hamper an organization's operations, especially if the organization can’t access a backup system. The hackers then typically demand a ransom, often paid in some form of cryptocurrency to avoid detection, before they unlock the computer system to allow access again. Cities, school systems and national and global companies have all been hit by such attacks in recent years.

In a release soon after at the attack, City Manager Zach Walker said the attack resulted in “technical difficulties and disruption to multiple services” but was discovered and halted “before it could infect the full city network.”

Mayor Eileen Weir says she had not been told the city had to pay any ransom to recover or unlock data or computer systems.