PLAINFIELD — A call comes in. The caller I.D. says it’s Duke Energy. An urgent voice insists that your electric service is being disconnected in 30 minutes unless you pay over the phone right now.

If you get a call like this, hang up because Duke Energy never disconnects customers like this. Instead, call Duke Energy at the number on your bill (800.521.2232), or check your balance online or via the Duke Energy app. And just like that, you’ve beaten the scammer.

In the first 10 months of 2021, more than 1,700 Duke Energy customers in Indiana reported scam attempts. Across all states served by Duke Energy, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a record number of scam attempts – nearly 30,000 scam attempts were reported by Duke Energy customers in 2020 alone. The good news: only about 4 percent of customers have fallen for the scam in the last year, down from more than 9 percent before Utility Scam Awareness Day began in 2016.

Education works. That’s why Duke Energy has again joined forces with utilities across the United States and Canada to bring awareness to these criminal tactics on the sixth annual Utility Scam Awareness Day on Nov. 17. Utility Scam Awareness Day is part of the week-long International Scam Awareness Week, an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on educating customers and exposing the tactics used by scammers.

“Scammers have not shown compassion for small businesses and private citizens enduring the trying circumstances of the last two years,” said Jared Lawrence, Duke Energy’s vice president of metering services and customer service transformation. “In fact, they have intensified their criminal activity with high-pressure tactics and increasing use of technology. For that reason, utilities continue to unite to combat scammers by spreading awareness, and we are working with telecom partners to remove access to phone lines and encouraging policymakers to adopt stronger public protections.”

Recognized annually, Utility Scam Awareness Day was created by Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS), a consortium of more than 150 electric, water and natural gas companies and their respective trade associations.

End the Call. End the Scam.

Duke Energy – a founding member of UUAS – and the consortium’s other member companies have seen an increase in scams attempting to take advantage of the uncertainty of the pandemic. Other scammers are preying on fears over nationwide natural gas price spikes. Many are attempting to use mobile banking apps to emphasize the “ease” of avoiding disconnection (Duke Energy does not take customer payments via mobile banking apps).

While the techniques continually shift, the easiest way to defuse the pressure is to stop before you act. That’s why this year’s awareness theme is “End the Call. End the Scam.”

“It’s perfectly acceptable for the customer to hang up the phone,” said UUAS Executive Director Monica Martinez. “The scammer’s initial goal is to pressure their targets and convince them that they work for the utility. Scammers are extremely sophisticated in their tactics, and by simply ending the call, you can end their scam. If you are unsure, you can always call back the utility by dialing the number found on your bill or on their website, and they will provide you with the correct information.”

UUAS advises customers who suspect they have been victims of fraud or who feel threatened by a scammer to contact their local utility or law enforcement authorities. Here are tips to protect yourself from falling victim to utility scams.

What to look for

Common scam tactics include:

Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer their utility bill is past due, and service will be disconnected – usually within 30 minutes – if a payment is not made.

New meter refund: After Duke Energy temporarily suspended disconnects in response to COVID-19 and offered extended payment plans, scammers adapted. Rather than focus on overdue bills, they tell the homeowner they need to pay a deposit for a new meter, which will later be refunded – again, insisting on immediate deposit.

Mobile banking apps: Customers are instructed to send immediate payment through a mobile app. Duke Energy does not accept payments through the Cash App, Venmo or Zelle apps. (Customers can make payments directly on Duke Energy’s mobile app, available in the Apple App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android.)

Personal information: Criminals promise to mail refund checks for overpayments on a customer’s account if they can confirm their personal data, including birthdays and, in some cases, Social Security numbers.

Protect yourself

Customers with past due accounts receive multiple advance notices, typically by mail and in their regular monthly bill, and Duke Energy will always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill, including online payments, phone payments, automatic bank drafts, mail or in person. Duke Energy will never:

Threaten immediate service interruption, call to demand payment about money owed without first sending you a notification by mail, or show up at your door demanding payment.

Specify using a prepaid card or mobile banking app for payment.

Ask for personal information or credit or debit card numbers over the phone, by email or in person – either for a payment or a refund.

Remember: if customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email or shut the door. Contact the utility immediately at the number on the most recent monthly bill or on the utility’s official website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers feel they are in physical danger, they should call 9-1-1.

More information is available at Duke Energy’s website: duke