Duke Energy, IPL warn consumers to steer clear of bill payment scam

Utilities say caller demands payment

INDIANAPOLIS - Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power and Light are warning consumers in Indiana about a bill payment demand that could drain their wallets.

Duke officials said Monday that someone has been calling customers, claiming that Duke will disconnect electrical service if the customer doesn't make an immediate payment, usually within an hour.

"The caller instructs the customer to purchase a prepaid debit card -- widely available at retail stores -- then tells the customer to call back to supposedly make a payment to Duke Energy," said Angeline Protogere, Duke communications manager, in a statement.

Company officials said the caller then asks the customer for the debit card's receipt number and PIN, which gives the caller access to the money.

"Duke Energy never asks or requires customers who have delinquent accounts to purchase a prepaid debit card to avoid electric service disconnection," Protogere said.

The company sends notices to delinquent accounts for weeks before cutting off service.

Duke spokesman Lew Middleton told RTV6 the scam spans six states.

"We do know that we have received an increasing number of calls from customers throughout all of our jurisdictions in six states reporting this kind of activity," Middleton said. "We want to get out in front of this to protect our customers the best way we can from this kind of fraudulent activity."

IPL customers have also been targeted. IPL customer Diana Bryson, who owns Tilly's Pub, said she received a call saying her power would be disconnected unless she paid her bill in full by 2 p.m.

"I was scrambling around trying to figure out what was going on. When I found out it was a scam, I was highly upset about it," Bryson said. "I had actually got my credit card out to give them my credit card number to avoid having my power shut off."

IPL has posted warnings on its website about the scammers. IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy said 300 customers have been victimized by the scam since August of last year. 

"If IPL were ever to call you about a disconnection of service, there would never be a time that we would tell you, you only had an hour, or a couple of hours to pay," Davis-Handy said. "There's definitely a line of communication; you would be notified in plenty of time. We would never tell you there would only be one payment option. There's a number of payment options."

IPL said minority communities, especially Hispanics, have been most frequently targeted by the scam.

No arrests have been made in the case.

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