How to identify utility scams before you fall victim

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Scammers know the trick to successfully luring in a victim is to pressure them to act fast before they have time to think. That’s the tactic behind a type of scam that’s been around for a while but continues to fool people.

In this 7NEWS consumer exclusive, an Upstate woman who wants to make sure you don’t fall victim this utility scam.

Barbara Houston has run the Mother Goose Daycare in Spartanburg for 25 years. And the only time Duke Energy came to turn the power off was for 10 minutes a few years back when they were switching to the smart meters. But a few weeks back, Houston got a disturbing call.  

“He said I’m with Duke Energy. And I said, you are, well what’s the problem? He said someone will be there in one hour to cut your power off. And I said, you can’t do that we have kids in this building and I don’t owe any money for no bill because I pay them as soon as I get them. And he said, no, we sent you a letter a week ago and told you we would be out there on this day to change your meter,” Houston explained.

She said the caller told her she had to pay $895 for the installation and instructed her to buy pre-paid cards to cover the cost.

“It got me upset. It really did,” she said.

Ryan Mosier with Duke Energy said the goal of scammers is to make you anxious.

“That pressure that you’re getting to do it now, and to do it through a method that they’re telling you to use, a certain type of payment method, that’s a red flag right there,” he said.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Utility companies will never request payment with a prepaid card
  • They won’t show up to cut power without ample prior written notice
  • And legitimate robocalls from your utility will only be informative and never ask for private information

Duke Energy said these types of scams are both cyclical and geographical, so they could blanket an area like Greenwood for one to two weeks and then target the Low Country. The company added the smart meter installation is now complete in the Carolinas, so it won’t be calling to change out meters again anytime soon.

Mosier said the scammers are banking on both your lack of knowledge and time to think.

“You know, one of the reasons that these scams can be effective is people are busy…” he explained. “And on deadline you may panic.”

After receiving the call, Houston said she called Duke Energy who confirmed it was indeed a scam.

“I’m tired of people that can’t afford things getting their money taken by someone that is too lazy to work,” Houston said.

Houston said she hopes her story will stop those callers from doing a number on anyone else.

By now, you may have hear of spoofing. But just in case, don’t assume that your caller ID is correct. Scammers can make any name and number appear on your caller ID, which makes it easier for them to impersonate companies like Duke Energy.

Scammers have an answer for everything, so the best advice is to hang up and call the company directly to verify the information. When you report the scam to companies like Duke Energy, the company works hard to stop it.

Here are some other types of utility scams to watch out for:

  • The Refund Scam – When callers say you’ve been overcharged but they need your credit card number to reimburse you
  • Email Phishing Scam – When you get an email that looks like it is from your utility company but the link downloads malware
  • Bogus Late Payment Claims – When the scammer threatens to cut off your service if you don’t pay now

If you have a consumer story you would like Diane Lee to investigate, click here.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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