The Better Business Bureau serving West Florida, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and TECO Peoples Gas are joining forces to help shut down utility scammers and protect consumers and businesses.
Gas and electric utility companies across North America are also working together as part of a week-long campaign focused on identifying the tricks scammers use to steal money from customers and how customers can protect themselves.
Scammers posing as utility representatives use a variety of email, in-person and phone tactics to target families and businesses to steal money.
Better Business Bureau has seen a rise on utility scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker from Floridians in the last 3 years. “Scammers frequently threaten Florida residents and business owners with deactivation if they don’t pay up immediately.” said Karen Nalven President/CEO of Better Business Bureau serving West Florida. “Many times these cons involve promises of energy discounts with the end goal in taking your money, personal information and account details.” The BBB 2017 Scam Tracker Risk Report found that of those who were victims of a utility scam, the average loss was $500.
Duke Energy is the founder of the Utilities United Against Scams collaborative, and Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas are members. The group consists of 114 gas, electric and water utility companies across the country and Canada. Members of the organization work across the utility industry and with regulators, law enforcement and other telecommunications partners to help stop scams targeting utility customers.
Here are the common scam tactics and ways customers can protect themselves:
Common scam tactics
- Power disconnection threats: Customers may receive threats to turn off electric service – usually in less than an hour – if a large payment is not made.
- Immediate payment requests: Customers are asked to quickly purchase a prepaid debit card and provide the card information, which grants the scammer instant access to personal funds. Some scammers may also request a money wire.
- Calls that appear to be from your utility: Scammers may rig caller ID to make it look like the call is from a service provider. They have even duplicated the utility’s upfront Interactive Voice Response system, so when customers call back phone numbers provided by the scammer, it sounds like a legitimate phone number. Here’s a link to audio of these mimicked phone calls.
How to protect yourself
- We encourage customers who suspect a scam to hang up and call their utility immediately at the phone number listed on their bill, followed by a call to the police and report the incident to BBB Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker to help warn others. Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.
- Do not pay over the phone if immediate payment is demanded to avoid disconnection. Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification from utilities – never a single notification an hour before disconnection.
- Utilities never ask or require a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid disconnection. Customers can make payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
How to identify utility workers conducting work on or near your property
- If customers question whether the person is a legitimate utility representative, contact the utility to verify their identity and reason for the visit.
- Always ask for identification. Employees of Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas will carry company-issued identification.
- In some instances, representatives from private companies may be working in your area on behalf of your utility as a contractor. If they do not have an official identification card, ask for their name and the reason for their visit, and then contact the utility to verify the information.
- Customers should not let anyone into their home unless they have verified their identity, or have scheduled the visit through the utility in advance.
- Customers should call police immediately if they believe the person is an imposter.
Visit these websites for additional scam awareness resources: www.bbb.org/scamtips www.duke-energy.com/stopscams or http://tampaelectricblog.com/dont-get-scammed/.
BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles and BBB Wise Giving Reports®, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is a difference in viewpoints. For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. Better Business Bureau Serving West Florida is one of many local, independent BBBs across North America that provide business profiles on companies within its 11 county service area. These counties include: Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Lee & Collier.
Tampa Electric and TECO Peoples Gas
Tampa Electric, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serves about 750,000 customers in West Central Florida. Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, serves about 375,000 customers across Florida. They are subsidiaries of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Duke Energy Florida
Duke Energy Florida owns and operates a diverse generation mix, including natural gas, coal and renewables, providing about 9,300 megawatts of owned electric capacity to approximately 1.8 million customers in a 13,000-square-mile service area.
Duke Energy Florida is a subsidiary of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK).
Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is one of the largest energy holding companies in the U.S., with approximately 29,000 employees and a generating capacity of 49,500 megawatts. The company is transforming its customers’ experience, modernizing its energy grid, generating cleaner energy and expanding its natural gas infrastructure to create a smarter energy future for the people and communities it serves.
The company’s Electric Utilities and Infrastructure unit serves approximately 7.6 million retail electric customers in six states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Its Gas Utilities and Infrastructure unit distributes natural gas to approximately 1.6 million customers in five states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. Its Commercial Renewables unit operates a growing renewable energy portfolio across the U.S.
A Fortune 125 company, Duke Energy was named to Fortune’s 2018 “World’s Most Admired Companies” list and Forbes’ 2018 “America’s Best Employers” list.
More information about the company is available at duke-energy.com. The Duke Energy News Center includes news releases, fact sheets, photos, videos and other materials. Duke Energy’s illumination features stories about people, innovations, community topics and environmental issues. Follow Duke Energy on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.