NewsPinellas County

Actions

The phone system sounds just like your utility company — but it's a scam

Utility scams on the rise in Tampa Bay
Posted: 4:43 PM, Nov 16, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-16 18:23:16-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Duke Energy and Tampa Electric (TECO) are tracking a big jump in scammers pretending to be from the electric companies. 

Now, both companies are working to get the word out about phony callers threatening to shut off your power if you don’t fork over the cash.

The scammers even set up identical phone systems to what Duke Energy and TECO use, so when you call the scammer back, it sounds legitimate. Even the hold music is identical to the actual utility company’s line.

↓ Listen ↓ 

The Better Business Bureau says utility scam calls have spiked over the past three years and the phony callers are getting more and more sophisticated. 

Recently, the Central Animal Hospital in St. Pete received one of the scam calls and because the animal hospital relies on power to perform surgeries, keep pets sedated etc. it became an urgent matter for the hospital’s bookkeeper.

Luckily, she was able to call Duke Energy’s legitimate number before she sent any money to the scammers. 

Duke Energy says if you receive a call and are unsure of its legitimacy, call the number on your power bill.

Duke Energy, TECO and People’s Gas have teamed up with 114 utility companies across the US to stop scammers. The group “Utilities United Against Scams” is working with lawmakers and law enforcement to find the scammers and press charges. The problem: Once one operation is shut down another one often pops up.

The scammers target both individuals and businesses, often calling during a restaurant’s lunch hour rush or when they know employees will be busy and distracted. 

They’re also finding out a lot more about the people they call in an effort to victimize you, including family member’s names, speaking in your native language or knowing where the nearest money wiring location is to your home.

The caller ID will often say it’s from a legitimate utility company.

On average, victims lose about $500 to the scammers and that money is often lost for good.

You can check out these sites to help you protect yourself against the scammers:  www.bbb.org/scamtips     www.duke-energy.com/stopscams  or   http://tampaelectricblog.com/dont-get-scammed/ .