(Better Business Bureau issued the following news release today.)
Clearwater, November 14, 2023 – The Better Business Bureau serving West Florida (BBB) is proud to announce another collaborative effort with leading utility providers Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to raise awareness about the growing threat of utility scams. As part of Utility Scam Awareness Day on Nov. 15, 2023, the organizations are joining forces to educate consumers and businesses about the tactics used by scammers and empower them to protect themselves.
Utility scams have become increasingly prevalent, with scammers employing various methods to exploit unsuspecting individuals and businesses. The collaboration between the BBB, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas aims to equip consumers with the knowledge and tools needed to identify and avoid falling victim to these deceptive practices.
Leveraging the power of social media, the organizations will launch a targeted awareness campaign using the hashtag #UtilityScamAware. By sharing real stories, tips, and updates, the campaign aims to reach a broad audience and foster a sense of community in the fight against utility scams.
Scammers posing as utility representatives use a variety of email, in-person and phone tactics to target families and businesses to steal money.
“Utility scams pose a significant threat to consumers and businesses alike,” said Karen Nalven, President of Better Business Bureau serving West Florida., “By partnering with Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas, the Better Business Bureau is taking a proactive stance to empower the community with knowledge and resources to combat these deceptive practices.”
The 2022 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report shows utility scam victims reporting to BBB a median loss of $327. The report uses data submitted by consumers to BBB Scam Tracker to shed light on how scams are being perpetrated, who is being targeted, which scams have the greatest impact and much more. The BBB Risk Index helps BBB better understand which scams pose the highest risk by looking at three factors: exposure, susceptibility, and monetary loss. The Risk Report is a critical part of BBB's ongoing work to contribute new, useful data and analysis to further the efforts of all who are engaged in combating marketplace fraud.
So far in 2023, more than 525 Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas customers in Florida have reported hearing from scammers. About 75 of those customers (or about 14%) lost a total of $55,000.
To date in 2023, more than 1,300 Duke Energy Florida customers reported scam attempts.
As the initiative is launched, consumers are encouraged to stay vigilant, verify the identity of anyone claiming to represent a utility company, and seek help or report suspicious activity when necessary to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/scamtracker. Utility customers can also take this interactive quiz to gauge their awareness of common scam techniques and for additional information and safety tips.
Common scam tactics
- Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively tell a customer their utility bill is past due and service will be disconnected – usually within an hour – if a payment is not made.
- Request for immediate payment: Scammers might instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card or cryptocurrency, or to send funds via a payment app to make a bill payment.
- Request for prepaid card or payment through certain mobile apps: Customers are instructed to pay with a prepaid debit card. The impostor asks for the prepaid card’s number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds. More recently, customers have also been instructed to send a payment through a payment app. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas do not accept payments through payment apps.
- Calls that appear to be from your utility: Scammers may the rig caller ID to make it look like the call is from a service provider. They have even duplicated the utility’s upfront interactive voice response system so that when a customer calls back the phone number provided by the scammer, it sounds legitimate.
- Customers who suspect a scam are encouraged to hang up and call their utility company immediately at the phone number listed on their bill or website, followed by a call to the police and reporting the incident to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/scamtracker to help warn others. Never dial the phone number the scammers provide.
- Do not pay over the phone if immediate payment is demanded to avoid disconnection. Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification from utilities – never a single notification an hour before disconnection.
- Utilities never ask or require a customer with a delinquent account to purchase a prepaid debit card or make a payment through a payment app to avoid disconnection. Customers can make payments online or by phone, automatic bank draft or mail.
- Know how to identify utility workers conducting work on or near your property. If customers question whether the person is a legitimate utility representative, contact the utility to verify their identity and reason for the visit. Always ask for identification. Employees of Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas carry company-issued identification. Customers should call the police immediately if they believe the person is an impostor.
BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles and BBB Wise Giving Reports®, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is a difference in viewpoints. For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. Better Business Bureau Serving West Florida is one of many local, independent BBBs across North America that provide business profiles on companies within its 11-county service area. These counties include: Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Lee & Collier.
To contact BBB Serving West Florida about this release please call Bryan Oglesby (727) 530-4651 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Duke Energy Florida
Duke Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, owns 10,500 megawatts of energy capacity, supplying electricity to 1.9 million residential, commercial and industrial customers across a 13,000-square-mile service area in Florida.
About Tampa Electric
Tampa Electric, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serves more than 830,000 customers in West Central Florida. Tampa Electric is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
About Peoples Gas
Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, serves more than 470,000 homes and businesses across the state. The company’s mission is to make life better for communities by delivering safe, resilient, efficient and affordable natural gas energy solutions. Peoples Gas is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. To learn more about the benefits of natural gas for Florida, visit FloridasEnergy.com. Find more information about the company, its culture, career opportunities and community investments at PeoplesGas.com.