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Sheriff falls victim to phone, utility payment scam that he’s warned others about

<i>WRAL</i><br/>At one point
At one point

By Bryan Mims

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    VANCE COUNTY, North Carolina (WRAL) — When it comes to scammers, even the most savvy among us aren’t entirely safe from schemes to get our money.

In Vance County, one bold scammer even tried to fool the sheriff and almost got away with it.

Vance County Sheriff Curtis Brame was at the hospital with his wife on Wednesday. Brame was staying with her while she was recovering from back surgery.

At one point, he got a call from someone claiming to be a Duke Energy representative on his cell phone. The caller told him he was delinquent on two power bills and threatened to turn off his power.

“They were gonna turn my services off in 30 to 45 minutes because of a delinquent payment,” Brame told WRAL News. His dog, Jack, was at home. Brame’s mind instantly turned to Jack’s health should his power go off in the summer heat.

Brame also said he was vulnerable, being most concerned at the moment with his wife’s well-being.

The person asking for Brame’s information knew his address, giving the call a semblance of legitimacy.

“So I immediately paid with the request of them asking for my credit card number,” Brame said. “Something that I never should have done.”

Brame said the call came from a 998 area code, which he later realized was suspicious.

Brame usually pays all his bills online, so he thought he might have made an error, giving the person his credit and debit card number. A Duke Energy representative later told him that’s not how they operate.

“This kind of scam is becoming, unfortunately, more common as these scammers become more inventive in the way they try to extract money from customers,” said Jeff Brooks with Duke Energy.

Brooks reiterated that Duke Energy would never send a single notice about a disconnection and would instead provide a series of communications to let a person know if their account was past due.

Anyone who receives a call like the one Brame got should hang up the phone and call customer service directly. The scams like the one directed at Sheriff Brame are built around immediacy, trapping the victim into thinking their power will be shut off if they don’t act quickly.

“They can spoof a phone number to look like they’re calling from Duke Energy,” Brooks said. “They will also give you details that sound very convincing, like giving you an amount on your account, knowing most likely the customer won’t have the bill in front of them. And always there’s this urgency: You need to take action now.”

Brame said he’s warned the Vance County citizens of similar schemes for years, but a stressful situation led him to make a mistake that anyone can make.

“Lesson learned for me – and I just don’t want people to make the same mistake that I made,” Brame said.

The good news: Brame canceled his credit cards and his office launched an investigation. The sheriff said his wife’s “doing much better.”

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