A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Duke Energy, BBB warn customers, small businesses about scams during Utility Scam Awareness Week

Duke Energy, the Better Business Bureau and other officials will join in a news conference today to warn customers and small businesses about scammers during Utility Scam Awareness Week.

The event will be held at the Better Business Bureau in Cincinnati.

Scammers posing as utility representatives use a variety of email, in-person and phone tactics to target families and businesses to steal money.

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a record number of scam attempts – nearly 30,000 scam attempts were reported by Duke Energy customers in 2020 alone.

The good news: Only about 4% of customers have fallen for a scam in the last year, down from more than 9% before Utility Scam Awareness Day began in 2016.

BBB also reported an uptick in these types of scams in the winter and summer months, when people are most likely to need heat or air conditioning. In the summer, door-to-door tactics from scammers have become more common.

BBB’s 2016 Scam Tracker Risk Report found that of those who were victims of a utility scam, the average loss was $500.

Here are the common scam tactics and ways customers can protect themselves:

Common scam tactics

▪ Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer their utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected – usually within 30 minutes – if a payment is not made.

▪ New meter refund: After Duke Energy temporarily suspended disconnects in response to COVID-19 and offered extended payment plans, scammers adapted. Rather than focus on overdue bills, they tell the homeowner they need to pay a deposit for a new meter, which will later be refunded – again insisting on immediate deposit.

▪ Mobile banking apps: Customers are instructed to send immediate payment through a mobile app. Duke Energy does not accept payments through the Cash  App, Venmo or Zelle apps. (Customers can make payments directly on Duke Energy’s mobile app, available in the Apple App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android.)

▪ Personal information: Criminals promise to mail refund checks for overpayments on a customer’s account if they can confirm their personal data, including birthdays and, in some cases, Social Security numbers.

Protect yourself

Customers with past-due accounts receive multiple advance notices, typically by mail and in their regular monthly bill, and Duke Energy will always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including online payments, phone payments, automatic bank drafts, mail or in person.

Duke Energy will never:

▪ Threaten immediate service interruption, call to demand payment about money owed without first sending you a notification by mail, or show up at your door demanding payment.

▪ Specify using a prepaid card or mobile banking app for payment.

▪ Ask for personal information or credit or debit card numbers over the phone, by email or in person – either for a payment or a refund.

Remember: If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email or shut the door. Contact the utility 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 feel they are in physical danger, they should call 911.

More information is available at duke-energy.com/StopScams.

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