Morris provided her Social Security number and asked for $187 toward her TV bill and $800 toward what she owed DTE Energy, a Michigan utility.
"It was very disappointing," Morris said Thursday after learning of the scam. "They shouldn't do that to people. I just lost my job in February, so it's very hard for me to come up with extra money."
Reports of the hoax surfaced in the spring and spiked in May and early July. Utilities and Better Business Bureau offices issued warnings.
"We see a lot of door-to-door scams," Hutt said.
"It is somewhat unusual to see one that's so well tied-together," she continued. "There could be copycats ... It's probably more than one scammer."
The scam quickly grew as victims shared the word on social media, "thinking it was a legitimate federally sponsored program," Sheppard said. "And of course, that can become confusing because there are legitimate federally sponsored programs."
There have been numerous other reports:
- Entergy Corp. said in May that about 2,000 of its customers had been affected, mainly in Louisiana but also in Texas.
- About 1,500 Duke Energy customers in the Carolinas, and a few in its Midwestern states, were duped, company spokeswoman Paige Layne said.
- Atmos Energy, one of the country's largest natural gas distributors, issued a warning in May to its 3.2 million customers in 12 states after about 300 customers in Mississippi reported being conned, company spokeswoman Jennifer Ryan said. The company sent out a second warning in July.
"It's gaining some ground," Ryan said of the ruse.
- Between 90 and 100 bogus payments came into the billing program in early July for Alliant Energy Corp., which serves about 1 million people in southern Wisconsin, most of Iowa, and southern Minnesota, spokesman Scott Reigstad said.
The business bureau and others are warning people not to share personal information unless they have initiated the contact and are confident in other person.
"We try to make this as easy and quick to grasp for anyone," said Janet Hart with the BBB in the Carolinas. "Never give out your personal information to someone who calls you."