Utility scam threatens consumers with an electric shut off if they don't pay up within an hour
Image source: WNCT.com
This week's freezing temperatures have most of us worried about frostbite and bursting pipes. We've got the heat cranked up and extra blankets on the bed. But imagine if when the temperatures are plummeting into the single digits, you get a call purporting to be from Duke Energy threatening to shut down your electric unless you make a payment within an hour. Whether or not you have electric heat, without your electric service on, even your gas heat won't work.
How the Scam Starts
This terrifying call has happened to thousands of North Carolina consumers and is not actually from Duke Energy or from any energy provider at all. Some more sophisticated scammers will use a service that spoofs caller IDs so it looks like the call is coming from the energy provider. Others will claim to be a third party collection service acting on behalf of the energy provider threatening a cut-off of services.
What the Scammers Demand
When they make the call, the scammers tell you that you must make an immediate payment (within an hour) to keep your electric up and running. They direct the hapless victim to purchase a prepaid debit card by saying this is the only form of payment that can be accepted at this late date. Green Dot money cards are a form of payment often requested in the scam.
How they Get Away With It
Once the scam victim buys the prepaid card, they call the scammers back and are ordered to provide the card number and PIN number. From there, the thieves can access the funds by spending with the card or getting the funds at a WalMart money center. They've then got your money and there's no way to trace them because they typically call from a burner phone.
How Much Has Been Stolen
Some energy scam victims have been taken for as much as $900 and victims have included not just residential consumers, but small businesses as well. The business threats promise to shut down power within the hour so most owners cave in and pay up despite that it seems questionable. One small business owner who was taken for $890 said, “When you're in business and someone tells you they're going to shut off the power, you've got to do something.”
What the Energy Companies Are Saying
Duke Power representative Kristina Hill says, “We are never going to call and threaten immediate service disconnection. And we are never going to say go to the store, get a prepaid card and call us back.” While it's mainly Duke Energy that has been the focus of the scam, other companies could be next. The company has launched a public service campaign to raise awareness and protect consumers.
How to Protect Yourself
If you get a call like this, don't panic. Ask for the callback number and hang up. Immediately call your power company (using a number from a statement or their website) and check the status of your account – this is to give you peace of mind that your service is not slated for disconnection. Report the scam activity to Duke Energy by calling 800-777-9898 or for Duke Energy Progress call 800-452-2777. Also report the scam to the Better Business Bureau.
Be sure to read our other blogs in this scam prevention series:
If you are struggling with your debts including your utility bills, contact the law offices of John T Orcutt to find out how bankruptcy can offer permanent debt relief and give you a financial fresh start.