Scammers are using a new tactic during the COVID-19 pandemic to trick utility customers out of money and personal information.
Duke Energy says in June 2020, it was the highest single month on record for reported scam attempts targeting their customers, hitting more than 4,000. The company says the total number of scam attempts reported by customers so far in 2020 - more than 15,000 - is already approaching 2019's full-year total of 18,000.
The new tactic scammers are using to catch utility customers off guard is by calling and promising to mail refund checks for overpayments on their accounts if they can confirm their personal data, including birthdays and, in some cases, social security numbers.
Duke Energy and subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas says they will apply refunds as a credit to customers' accounts and will not contact customers to verify personal information by phone, email, or in-person in order to mail a check.
"Unfortunately, the scammers appear to be preying on the uncertainty and financial hardship caused by the pandemic, and they are tracking trends and adjusting their tactics," said Jared Lawrence, Duke Energy's vice president of revenue services and metering. "As new scam techniques are employed, it is imperative that customers stay alert, informed and make a concerted effort to guard their personal information and wallets."
You also need to be on guard when it comes to scammers calling and posing as utility providers about to disconnect your power because of a lack of payment.
The caller ID will be manipulated and appear to be from the power company, and the scammer may even have a voice recording that makes it appear Duke Energy called you. The scammer will demand immediate payment in the form of a prepaid debit card or gift card.
It's important to know, due to COVID-19, Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas have currently suspended disconnections for nonpayment.
If you do get this call and are concerned, hang up and call the number on your utility bill, not the number that the scammer gives you.