Utility Scam Awareness Week runs this week
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 by participating in the fourth annual Utility Scam Awareness Week, Nov. 17 to 23.
Gas and electric utility companies across North America are also working together as part of a weeklong 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.
“Utility imposter scams continue to be a concern for Florida’s consumers and businesses. Better Business Bureau urges Floridians to report this scam to BBB Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker. Whether you are victimized or not, reporting can help to warn others.” said Karen Nalven, president/CEO of Better Business Bureau serving West Florida. “Many times, these cons involve high pressure tactics to act now with the end goal in taking your money, personal information and account details.” The BBB 2018 Scam Tracker Risk Report found that of those who were victims of a utility scam, the average loss was $500.
Duke Energy is a founding member of the Utilities United Against Scams collaborative, and Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas are members. The group consists of more than 140 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.
UUAS has helped shut down nearly 5,000 toll-free phone numbers used by utility-impostor scammers.
So far in 2019, more than 850 TECO customers in Florida have reported hearing from scammers, and about 25 customers (or about 3 percent) lost a total of $25,000.
From January through September 2019, more than 2,600 Duke Energy Florida customers in its 35 counties reported scam attempts. About 128 (or 5 percent) of these customers paid the scammers, which resulted in nearly $78,900 lost dollars.
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.
How to protect yourself
- We encourage customers who suspect a scam to hang up and call their utility company immediately at the phone number listed on their bill or website, 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 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 the police immediately if they believe the person is an imposter.
Tampa Electric, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serves about 765,000 customers in West Central Florida. Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, serves more than 400,000 customers across Florida. They are both subsidiaries of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.