As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s absolutely critical to remind all utility customers to beware of impostors attempting to scam them. In the first 10 months of 2020, about 11,000 Duke Energy customers in North Carolina reported scam attempts. Of these customers, about 300 paid the scammers, which resulted in nearly $150,000 lost.
This week, Duke Energy has joined forces with utilities across the continent to bring awareness to these criminal scam tactics on the fifth annual Utility Scam Awareness Day on Nov. 18. Utility Scam Awareness Day is part of the week-long International Scam Awareness Week, an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on educating customers and exposing the tactics used by scammers. Click here to read the company’s news release on the subject.
Know what to look for:
Common scam tactics include:
- Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer their utility bill is past due, and service will be disconnected—usually within an hour—if a payment is not made.
- Request for immediate payment: Scammers might instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card, cryptocurrency, or to send funds via a mobile app to make a bill payment.
- Request for prepaid card or payment through certain mobile apps: Customers are instructed to pay with a prepaid debit card. The impostor asks for the prepaid card’s number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds. More recently, customers have also been instructed to send a payment through a mobile app. Duke Energy currently does not accept payments through the Cash App, Venmo or Zelle apps. However, customers can make payments on Duke Energy’s mobile app available in the Apple App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android.
- Personal information: During the COVID-19 crisis, criminals are promising to mail 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 will apply refunds as a credit to customers’ accounts and will not contact customers to verify personal information by phone, email or in person in order to mail a check.
- Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service interruption. Utility companies do not specify how customers should make a bill payment and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including online payments, phone payments, automatic bank drafts, mail, or in person.
- If someone threatens immediate service interruption, customers should be aware. Customers with past due accounts receive multiple advanced notices, typically by mail and in their regular monthly bill. Utilities will never notify of a disconnection in one hour or less.
- If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email, or shut the door. The utility should be contacted immediately at the number on the most recent monthly bill or on the utility’s official website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 9-1-1.