Submitted by Duke Energy.
Scams targeting electric and natural gas customers are on the rise, with imposters implementing new tactics during the pandemic to trick utility customers out of money and personal information.
June 2020 was the highest single month on record for reported scam attempts targeting Duke Energy customers in the Midwest and Southeast, hitting more than 4,000.
Here in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio customers have reported more scam attempts in the first half of 2020 than they did in all of 2019.
In 2019, there were 2,136 scam attempts reported by Duke Energy customers in Ohio. So far in 2020, there have been 2,920.
“Unfortunately, the scammers appear to be preying on the uncertainty and financial hardship caused by the pandemic, and they are tracking trends and adjusting their tactics,” said Jared Lawrence, Duke Energy’s vice president of revenue services and metering. “As new scam techniques are employed, it is imperative that customers stay alert, informed and make a concerted effort to guard their personal information and wallets.”
Scammers have added a new tactic, which promises to mail customers refund checks for overpayments on their accounts if they can confirm their personal data, including birthdays and, in some cases, social security numbers.
Duke Energy typically applies refunds as credits to customers’ accounts and will not contact customers to verify personal information by phone, email or in person in order to mail a check.
Scam reports also indicate that phone scammers posing as utility providers continue to call and insist customers are delinquent on their bills. The scammer typically claims a service disconnection is pending, rigs caller ID to mimic your utility provider and demands immediate payment in the form of a prepaid debit card.
Note: Duke Energy has currently suspended disconnections for nonpayment.
Common scam tactics include:
– A call with prerecorded voice, often referred to as a robocall, with a caller ID display showing the name of the customer’s utility.
– A mimicked interactive voice menu that customers typically hear when they call their utility.
– Threats to disconnect power or natural gas service to a customer’s home or business within an hour.
– Immediate payment demands by prepaid debit card.
– And, with many utilities suspending disconnections for nonpayment during the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers are now promising refund checks if the customer makes a payment and the pending disconnect was an error.
Customers who suspect they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened during an interaction with one of these scammers should:
– Hang up the phone, especially if it’s a robocall requesting personal information or immediate payment to avoid disconnection within an hour.
– Call the utility provider by using the phone number provided on the bill or on the company’s official website, followed by a call to the police. Duke Energy customers in Ohio and Kentucky can reach a company representative by calling 800.544.6900 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
– Never purchase a prepaid debit card or gift card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. Legitimate utility companies do not specify how customers should make a payment, and they always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
Customers can learn about recent scams and how to recognize the warning signs on the Federal Trade Commission website: www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts.
Duke Energy is also a founding member of Utilities United Against Scams, a consortium of more than 140 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas companies (and their respective trade associations) that raises awareness of utility scams targeting customers. Duke Energy’s Jared Lawrence is also the UUAS founder and executive committee chair.
Visit duke-energy.com/stopscams or utilitiesunited.org for more information and tips about how customers can protect themselves from impostor utility scams, or follow along on social media: Twitter @DukeEnergy or @U_U_A_S and Facebook @Duke Energy or @UtilitiesUnited.
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