- Utilities and consumer protection agency join forces to protect customers and stop scammers
- Utility Scam Awareness Day (Nov. 16) focuses on exposing scam tactics and empowering customers to take action to prevent fraud
- Scammers use familiar attempts with new payment methods; awareness is your best defense
Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving West Florida, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas are teaming up to protect customers and businesses and bring awareness to scams occurring across Florida on Utility Scam Awareness Day.
Wednesday, Nov. 16, marks the seventh annual Utility Scam Awareness Day, which was created by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a consortium of more than 150 U.S. and Canadian electric companies, including Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas, as well as water and natural gas companies, to educate utility customers and expose the tactics used by scammers.
Scammers posing as utility representatives, called impostors, use a variety of email, in-person and phone tactics to target families and businesses to steal money.
BBB, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas are seeing a rise in scammers contacting utility customers asking for immediate payment via prepaid cards and payment apps to avoid service disconnection.
“Scammers are experts at impersonating people and companies, and they continue to hone their skills following the latest trends and technology,” said Karen Nalven, president/CEO of Better Business Bureau serving West Florida. “Being aware of the common tactics used by scammers is half the battle. When in doubt, end the call or ignore the text and report it immediately.”
The 2021 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report shows utility scam victims reporting to BBB lost an average of 49% more in 2021 than the prior year, with a median loss to utility scams of $500. The report also covers how cryptocurrency scams are signaling a new marketplace risk, where scammers are collecting payment through bitcoin machines.
So far in 2022, more than 2,100 Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas customers in Florida have reported hearing from scammers. About 100 of those customers (or about 5%) lost a total of $61,000.
Last year, approximately 4,500 Duke Energy customers in Florida reported scam attempts. Of these customers, 175 paid the scammers about $134,000. The good news: Only about 4% of customers have fallen for the scam in 2021, down from more than 9% before Utility Scam Awareness Day began in 2016.
BBB urges Floridians to report scams, whether they’re victims or not, to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker. Utility customers can also take this interactive quiz to gauge their awareness of common scam techniques and for additional information and safety tips.
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 an hour – if a payment is not made.
- Request for immediate payment: Scammers might instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card or cryptocurrency, or to send funds via a payment app to make a bill payment.
- Request for prepaid card or payment through certain mobile apps: Customers are instructed to pay with a prepaid debit card. The impostor asks for the prepaid card’s number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds. More recently, customers have also been instructed to send a payment through a payment app. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas do not accept payments through payment apps.
- 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 that when a customer calls back the phone number provided by the scammer, it sounds legitimate.
- Customers who suspect a scam are encouraged 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 reporting the incident to BBB Scam Tracker at 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 or make a payment through a payment app to avoid disconnection. Customers can make payments online or by phone, automatic bank draft or mail.
- Know 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. Customers should call the police immediately if they believe the person is an impostor.
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.
About Tampa Electric
Tampa Electric, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serves more than 800,000 customers in West Central Florida. Tampa Electric is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.