Electricity cutoff scam trending in NC as Duke Energy reports record ripoff attempts in 2020


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A new, sophisticated variation on a utility scam is being reported by consumers who are getting calls saying an electricity cutoff is imminent. 

For CBS 17 viewer Jeff Caufield, the scam began with a cellphone call and a voice message left for him supposedly by Duke Energy. He said at first glance it appeared to be pretty legitimate. 

“It was a toll-free number,” Caufield said. “They left a voicemail to call them back regarding a payment that didn’t go through or they were going to shut off my power.” 

When Caulfield called the number, he got a voicemail menu claiming he’d reached Duke Energy. The menu offered several choices from which to pick.

When he chose “bill payment” he said he was connected to a very pushy person. 

“Part of the scam is a sense of urgency,” said Caufield. “They’re giving people an hour — just one hour.”  

The scammers demanded $200 immediately to keep his power on. 

CBS 17 asked Duke Energy’s Meredith Archie how prevalent scams are like the one Caufield was involved in.

“We’ve seen record numbers of scam attempts in 2020,” she said. 

For Duke Energy alone, Archie said, there were 11,000 customers victimized in 2020, resulting in over $150,000 stolen from those people. 

For Caufield, the scam fell apart after he began to realize the situation was suspicious.   

“When I was asking for info about myself, they couldn’t repeat it very quickly,” he said.  

That was one red flag that it was a scam.

Other red flags used by criminals include the threat of immediate cutoff and demand for payment with prepaid cards.

Another red flag is a refund for an overpayment.

Here’s how that scam works: 

“They collect personal information, names, addresses, social security numbers and account numbers,” said Archie.  

After that, they promise a refund check is in the mail but it never comes. The criminals then have what they want — personal information which they can use any way they desire.  

Archie said real utilities don’t offer overpayment refund checks.  

“We would never mail a refund check, she said. “We credit your account.”

In an attempt to try and slow down these scammers, utilities across the country have banded together creating a website offering details and solutions about utility scams. 

There is also a downloadable 36-page utility scam guide that you can access here which offers ways to avoid being scammed by increasingly sophisticated criminal schemes.

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