In recent days, a rash of text messages have arrived on the cellphones of Verizon Wireless customers in Tampa Bay, claiming to come from the company.
The messages warn customers that their accounts have been or are about to be suspended. If the customers click a link provided in these messages, they will be asked to supply personal information such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and credit card information.
Similarly, Duke Energy customers have gotten phone calls in recent weeks from people demanding immediate payment — usually with a debit card — of past-due bills or checks that did not clear. Customers who don't cooperate will have their power shut off, the callers say.
Both are scams. Reports of phony utility collections have picked up over the holidays.
"In general, fraud activity can become more prevalent during the holiday season," said Kristina Hill, a spokeswoman for Duke.
Over the last decade, Verizon Wireless has filed nearly two dozen lawsuits against people suspected of "phishing," or gaining customers' financial information by posing as the company. Many of the legal actions have been concentrated in the Tampa Bay area or southeast Florida, said regional Verizon Wireless spokesman Chuck Hamby.
Many of the purported Verizon Wireless texts link to "verizon.wireless," a nonexistent entity. (The company's real URL is verizonwireless.com.) Those who click through the links might be asked to fill in a date of birth with a day-month-year format, a style used in several countries but not the United States.
A real utility would not ask for your birth date or other personal information they got when you set up the account. An email alert sent by Duke on Tuesday noted that the company would never disconnect a customer's service after a single communication.
"They should listen hard for two red flags," Hill said. "One is the threat of immediate service disconnection. The other is if they are telling them to go get a prepaid debit card."
Duke customers with questions should call the number on their billing statement, or toll-free 1-800-700-8744.
Verizon Wireless customers are advised to report suspicious messages or calls to firstname.lastname@example.org.