Scammers Continue to Target Utility Customers, Threatening Loss of Power

The caller claims that there is a problem with the person's account—such as an overdue bill—and demands an immediate payment

Scammers Continue to Target Utility Customers, Threatening Loss of Power
Image: Pexels
April 11, 2018

Consumers from across the state of North Carolina and the country are continuing to report receiving phone calls that are seemingly from their utility company.

The caller claims that there is a problem with the person's account, such as an overdue bill. The consumer is told that a payment must be made immediately or power to their home or business will be shut off.

Don't be fooled—these calls are all part of an elaborate con targeting unsuspecting consumers.

In this scam, crooks use technology to fake their phone number, so when the call comes through the name of the customer's actual utility company—such as Duke Energy—displays on the caller ID. These scammers will also often use a prepaid phone, making the calls next to impossible to trace.

In a recent version of this scam, con artists are taking extra steps to convince you that their call is legitimate, by transferring you to speak to a "supervisor" during the call, and even by playing music for you while you're on hold.

Victims are sometimes instructed to send their payment by wire. But increasingly they're told to deposit money into a specific account, or to put funds on a prepaid debit card or gift card and then call back to provide the card number.

Fake Government program

In another recently reported adaptation of this scam, con artists try to convince you that a government program will help you pay your bills. They say signing up for the program is simple—just provide your Social Security number and your bank's routing number, and then pay your bill through an automated telephone system.

That is the setup, but the scammer's goal is to make you a victim of identity theft by harvesting your private information. Piedmont Natural Gas says dozens of customers in the southeast have been contacted about the phony government program.

Thousands of dollars lost

Most people see through the scam, but some don't. An eastern North Carolina homeowner lost more than $500 recently while a Charlotte resident lost almost $2,000, both via gift cards. A small business in the Raleigh area sent more than $1,000 by wire, and another lost $2,200 via prepaid cards.

Con artists know that customers will respond if there is a consequence, so they often threaten to turn off power within the hour of the call if the victim doesn't pay.

Remember, if someone calls you claiming there's a problem with your account and requests money or personal information from you, hang up. If you have a question about your utility account, contact the company directly at a number or website you know to be valid, such as one listed on your monthly bill.

Report suspected scams

If you think you've been victimized by this or any scam, file a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.