Duke Energy customers warned about convincing scam

Sorboni Banerjee reports

- It’s a call that sounds like you're in trouble for not paying your electric bill: “Hi my name is John, ID #214 calling from Duke Energy. You need to contact the billings department to avoid any disconnections.”

After several businesses started getting the calls, police are putting out a warning: This is a scam. 

One of those businesses, a dog groomer in Largo, said it received the call and fell for it.

“If you get a call that's aggressive and they're demanding a payment immediately even within an hour -- know that's not Duke Energy calling you,” Duke Energy's Ana Gibbs explained. “Unfortunately, some of our customers have paid thousands of dollars.”

The groomer is not alone. Bars and restaurants have been targeted too. Tarpon Springs police put out a bulletin warning people about the "Duke Scam."

The calls can be convincing – scammers sometimes go as far as replicating Duke's voice response system with a computer-generated voice and automated commands.

“Thank you for calling Duke Energy. How can I help you?” asks one scammer on a recording obtained by FOX 13 News.

“Yes, I got a message I didn't pay my bill, so I wanted to call and find out what I can do to keep the power on,” says the concerned customer.

“Yes happy to help you," the man responds.

But even though it sounds legit, the customer didn't receive any prior notification from Duke that a bill was overdue. That's the first sign of a scam. 

“Do I just need to go down to the office and just pay it?” asks the customer.

The scammer tells him there’s already a technician en route to cut off service, so he should pay right away. That’s another red flag -- a push for immediate payment. In this case, the scammer says a credit card won't process fast enough to keep the power on; only a prepaid card will do.

“You need to bring a total amount of $873 cash for the account to clear,” he says.

Gibbs says, “Please know that Duke Energy will never ask for payment in... a prepaid card. We ask for regular payments.”

In this latest case, the phone number did not match Duke's and, when FOX 13 News called, it appeared to be disconnected.

Some scammers, however, are using caller ID spoofing to replicate Duke's customer service number. So the only way to definitely know you're talking to your energy company is to hang up and call the number you see on your bill.

For more information about this scam from Duke Energy, visit http://bit.ly/DEFscaminfo.

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