Gulf Power and Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), as part of the national group Utilities United Against Scams, will support International Fraud Awareness Week this week and recognize the sixth annual Utility Scam Awareness Day, on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

Utility Scam Awareness Day is an advocacy and awareness campaign focused on educating customers and exposing the tactics used by scammers. UUAS, a consortium of nearly 150 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities, tries to raise customer awareness of common scams and new scam tactics being used by utility impostors. Through its work and with the help of customer reporting, UUAS has successfully helped to take nearly 12,000 toll-free numbers used by scammers against utility customers out of operation.

“Scammers have not shown compassion for small businesses and our customers enduring the trying circumstances of COVID-19 the last two years; if anything, they have intensified their activity with high pressure tactics and increasing use of technology,” said Sarah Gatewood, Gulf Power spokesperson. “At Gulf Power, we want our customers to be able to recognize some of the common tactics used and understand how they can protect themselves from being targeted.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, utilities have seen an increase in scammers, contacting customers seeking payments and personal and financial information to avoid service interruptions. As a reminder, utilities will never ask for payments using a pre-paid debit card, gift card or cryptocurrencies. Utilities provide multiple notices before service interruptions.

“If you feel something isn’t right, hang up the phone and take a moment to visit your account online or call us before responding to a demand for payment,” added Gatewood. “We take the safety of our customers and our employees seriously, and we ask everyone to always be on the lookout for suspicious activity.”

Here are tips to protect yourself from falling victim to utility scams:  

Signs of potential scam activity:  

  • 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 may instruct a customer to purchase a prepaid card, cryptocurrency or to send funds via a mobile app to make a bill payment. 
  • Request for prepaid card: Customers are instructed to pay with a prepaid debit card. The impostor asks the for the prepaid card’s number, which grants instant access to the card’s funds. 

How customers can protect themselves:  

  • Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service interruption. Utility companies do not ask for a prepaid card and always offer a variety of ways to pay a bill.  
  • If someone threatens immediate service interruption, customers should be aware. Customers with past due accounts receive multiple notices, typically by mail or email and in their regular monthly bill.  
  • If customers suspect someone is trying to scam them, they should hang up, delete the email or shut the door. The utility should be contacted immediately at the number on the most recent monthly bill or on the utility’s official website, not the phone number the scammer provides. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911. 

Visit www.utilitiesunited.org or GulfPower.com/scams for information and tips on how customers can protect themselves.