BBB: Utility scammers target younger customers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thieves pose as workers from the power company to get your personal information and money.

In most cases, the criminals call or email you, pretend to be with your utility and threaten to turn off your electricity or gas if you don't pay right away.

Some even spoof caller ID to look like legitimate numbers.

Advice: Your utility company will never call you out of the blue, threaten you and want you to pay with a prepaid debit card.

If you have any doubts about a call you've received, hang up and call the company yourself.

Action 9 usually hears about older customers falling victim, but the Better Business Bureau said the average victim is male and younger than 35 years old. One theory is that younger customers are less skeptical.

Duke Energy said more than 25,000 customers reported the scams over the last three years. About 5 to 7 percent of those people fell victim, and they lost a combined $1.5 million. The BBB said the average person loses $500.

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Jared Lawrence, vice president of Meter Services and Piedmont Natural Gas operations, founded the group Utilities United Against Scams three years ago, to combat utility scammers.

There are now 120 U.S. and Canadian electric, water and natural gas companies that are now members of UUAS.

The group is promoting a weeklong campaign focused on exposing the tactics of scammers, which coincides with the start of the holiday season. That is a time when reported scam activity spikes.

Today is the third annual Utility Scam Awareness Day.

Lawrence said, so far, utilities have shut down more than 2,000 phone numbers the con artists were using, creating more time, expense and effort for the scammers.

"I wish I could tell you that we really don't need this effort anymore,” Lawrence said. “I wish, after three years of this fight, we can say that we have dried up the ill-gotten profits of these scammers. Unfortunately, they're just as aggressive as ever."

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