News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 5, 2013

Scam targets local business

Widespread fraud effort under way for several months

TERRE HAUTE — A southern Vigo County business on Monday was unsuccessfully targeted by scammers misrepresenting themselves as Duke Energy employees.

A Duke spokesman said the scam has been under way for several months, and that the utility has made several efforts to educate the public about it.

The business targeted was Pimento Sunoco, located on U.S. 41 South. Curtis Bodine, one of the owners, said the business was contacted by someone named “George” who used a 317 area code. A store employee contacted Bodine and told him it was urgent.

When Bodine called the number given, “George” told Bodine he was with Duke’s disconnection department. “George” told him there was a problem with the account and that if he didn’t make payment immediately the business would be disconnected within a few hours.

The scammer could not provide an accurate account number, Bodine said.

The scammer wanted him to use “payment today” cards totaling $2,000.

After he hung up, Bodine immediately contacted Duke representatives, who told him it was a scam and that others in the Wabash Valley had been contacted as well.

“If I had been behind on a bill, or a little less savvy, I might have been taken in,” Bodine said. “I’d hate to see this happen to anyone.”

He also contacted the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

Bodine said the scammers called the business back and asked where the payment was; he had instructed his employees to tell the callers “we know this is a scam” and to report it to police.

Lew Middleton, Duke spokesman, said the scam has been ongoing, and “we have seen it being perpetrated on customers not only in Indiana, but in all six states where Duke does business.”

Duke Energy has been working over the last several months to educate customers and the general public about the scam through a paid radio campaign, bill statement messages, customer email, media interviews, social media and at the company website, www.duke-energy.

com.

He said it’s not confined to Duke, and that other electric utilities have experienced the same kind of thing. “It’s widespread,” Middleton said.

It’s difficult to track the numbers because the calls originate from out of the country, he said. The scammers are “pretty sophisticated” and can engage in caller ID spoofing. On the recipient’s caller ID, scammers “can display what appears to be a legitimate customer service number for Duke Energy. “

The company advises the public that “never, ever under any circumstances will Duke Energy call a customer and demand immediate payment or under the threat of cutting electricity right away,” Middleton said.

If the utility is going to disconnect someone for lack of payment, the customer will receive at least two written notifications (by mail or electronically) from the company over the course of several weeks, he said. The notice would come with the bill.

“We never issue a single notification one hour before disconnection. We don’t do that,” Middleton said.

Unfortunately, some customers have fallen for the scam, he said. He didn’t know how many.

If customers believe they have been contacted by a scammer, they should contact law enforcement and then contact Duke Energy toll free at 800-521-2232 “so we can keep a record of it,” Middleton said.

“Law enforcement would love to try and catch them,” but because scammers are likely from out of the country, there is little that can be done as far as prosecution, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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