This summer, Duke Energy Florida has seen an increase in utility payment scams, particularly in the Tampa Bay and greater Orlando areas.
In one month alone, reports to Duke Energy have included calls from homeowners, renters, bars and restaurants and even the Dioceses of St. Petersburg.
The ruse continues to morph, with customers now reporting thieves even demanding payment by iTunes gift cards.
The Tarpon Springs Police Department has issued a warning to local residents after seeing an uptick in reports.
Here’s how the scam typically works:
The customer receives an unsolicited phone call from an individual who falsely claims to be a Duke Energy representative. Scammers have even duplicated the Duke Energy upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate Duke Energy phone number. Some of these criminals also use caller ID spoofing to replicate Duke Energy’s customer service number.
“These scammers are continuously changing up their game and becoming more sophisticated so we are increasing our efforts to combat this crime and help customers learn to spot scam activity,” said Alex Glenn, Duke Energy state president – Florida. “It is important we don’t let our guard down during a time of year when utility scams tend to pick up.”
Red flags for scam activity
- The caller becomes angry and tells the customer his or her account is past due and service will be disconnected if a large payment isn’t made – usually within the hour.
- The caller instructs the customer to purchase a pre-paid debit or credit card – widely available at retail stores – then call him or her back to supposedly make a payment to Duke Energy.
- The scammer asks the customer for the prepaid card’s receipt number and PIN number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds.
- The customer has received no other notice from Duke Energy that an account is overdue.
How to protect yourself
- Duke Energy never asks or requires a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card – or iTunes card -- to avoid disconnection.
- Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
- Customers with delinquent accounts receive advance disconnection notification with the regular monthly billing – never a single notification one hour before disconnection.
- Customers, who suspect or experience fraud, or feel threatened during contact with one of these thieves, should contact local authorities, and then the Duke Energy Florida phone number listed on their bill (800-700-8744). Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.
The company continues to enhance its efforts to educate the public and work with law enforcement, other utilities and Better Business Bureaus to denounce the scams. The company also continues to interview victims to detect any signs or clues that could help break the case.