Protecting yourself

Caller urges you to pay power bill in an hour? It’s a scam!

Jay MacDonald

Recent news from Southeastern utility giant Duke Energy regarding some kinky new twists on the overdue-bill phone scam has me thinking low-tech may be the new high-tech when it comes to card fraud.

The scam itself is a classic: You receive a call from a person who claims to work for your power company. The caller informs you that your utility payment is overdue. In fact, it’s so past due that the utility is going to turn off your power within the hour unless you scurry to your closest retailer, purchase a prepaid debit card, and call them back with the card numbers to settle up.

And no; the caller won’t accept a credit card. “When customers offer to pay that way, the scammers say it won’t process in time,” says Duke spokeswoman Suzanne Grant. “That’s how they justify requiring the prepaid card.” Untraceable moolah, don’t you know.

Here’s where this scam seems to be breaking bad for unsuspecting consumers:

  • Two Duke customers were specifically instructed to settle their bill with iTunes gift cards (they declined).
  • Some scammers used caller ID spoofing to replicate Duke’s customer service number.
  • Scammers even duplicated Duke’s interactive voice response (IVR) system, so when customers return the “courtesy call” to the number provided by the scammer, it sounds like they’ve reached Duke Energy.

Ingenious, right? The scammer’s call not only looks like it’s coming from Duke, but when you return their call, it sounds like you’ve reached and been routed through your utility company as well. In effect, you wind up calling them to be scammed!

Have a listen: Suspicious customers shared with Duke these recordings of the phony Duke IVR message and an actual pitch from a fraudster.



“These scammers are continuously changing up their game and becoming more sophisticated, so we are increasing our efforts to combat this crime and to help customers learn to spot scam activity,” says Duke’s Florida President Alex Glenn.

Toward that end, Duke reminds all utility customers:

  • Power companies don’t yell, threaten or demand immediate payment. I mean, come on; they’re the power company. They make bupkis switching off your juice.
  • Beware of a repeat: “Another thing we’ve noticed is, once you’ve paid them once, they’ll call you back and say, ‘You know, there was something wrong with that payment. We need you to do it again,’” Grant warns.
  • Should you fall behind on your power bill, you’ll receive written notice well in advance on your regular monthly bill before they actually pull the plug.
  • Customers can make payments in many ways: online, by phone and via automatic bank draft, mail or in person. And yes, your utility will take credit cards. But iTune gift cards? Not so much.

If you suspect you’re being scammed, cease all contact with the con artist immediately, report your experience to the phone number listed on your utility bill (Duke’s is 800-700-8744 in Florida) – and pass along the number the scammers gave you to your local authorities.

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