ROSEMEAD, Calif – Southern California Edison (SCE) continues to advise customers to stay vigilant and learn to protect themselves from a telephone bill scam that demands immediate payment for allegedly past-due electricity bills.
It’s getting costlier too since in April, SCE customers lost an estimated $27,000 to phone scams, an increase from $17,000 in March.
Recently, an SCE business customer was defrauded out of $3,000 after responding to a scam call. So far this month, more than 500 scam phone calls have been made to SCE customers, with some paying between $1,500-$3,000. Some customers have even reported seeing a red truck thought to be from SCE with the words “Service Disconnect” parked outside their homes or businesses.
Scammers also have created fake telephone lines and recordings that state: “Hello. Thank you for calling Southern California Edison Disconnection Department.” Another trick is telling customers local police will be called if they don’t pay immediately.
Many impostors urge customers to use a reloadable prepaid card to make payments.
“You should be leery of anyone who calls you asking for money. Utilities are not going to call and request payments over the telephone,” said Hector Tamayo, a detective with the Claremont Police Department. “The biggest red flag is when these callers request money on a reloadable prepaid card. Most people should be able to catch on when the caller is asking you to send a payment through a prepaid card.”
So how does the scam work? Phone impostors claiming to be with SCE call customers and fraudulently threaten to disconnect their electrical service unless immediate payment is made on a supposedly past-due bill. The caller demands payment immediately and tells the unsuspecting customer to buy a prepaid debit card — and there are many different kinds – and load a specific amount of money on it and call the impostor back, providing the serial number off the back of the card.
Once you give out the serial number, the cash is untraceable and gone for good.
And although more customers are learning to recognize phone scams, impostors continue to cheat people out of their money using more elaborate and deceptive ploys.
“We are doing what we can to inform our customers about these criminals so they don’t fall victim to their scams. We often include important information like this on our bill inserts, so I would encourage customers to review those pages of their monthly statements,” said Kari Gardner, manager, SCE Consumer Affairs. “Also, helping spread the word to their employees and their friends about these scams will help prepare them in the event they receive telephone calls from individuals demanding money for payment.”
SCE customers who suspect a fraudulent call should ask for the caller’s name, as well as their department and business phone number. End the call and report the incident immediately to local police or SCE at 1-800-655-4555. And never use the callback number provided by the caller. Instead, call the SCE phone numbers printed on your bill or go to the SCE website. Service representatives can assist customers in multiple languages.
If you do pay an impostor, call SCE to report the scam and provide the card number you used to pay the scammer. In addition, call your local law enforcement agency and file a police report for your loss.
Signs of a Scam
Here are a few red flags to help you spot a telephone bill scam.
Scam: Caller demands immediate payment with the threat of shutting off your utility service.
Fact: SCE never calls customers over the telephone to collect overdue bills and will never demand immediate payment with the threat of service disconnection
Scam: You’re instructed to buy a prepaid debit card at a store within the next 30-60 minutes and load it with money.
Fact: SCE does not accept prepaid cards for bill payments.
Scam: Caller claims to be from SCE’s Disconnection Department.
Fact: SCE does not have a Disconnection Department.
Scam: Caller asks for money in person.
Fact: SCE employees never ask for, or collect, money out in the field.
Scam: You get a call on a weekend or holiday about an unpaid bill.
Fact: SCE does not conduct credit transactions on weekends or holidays.
Scam: You’re told a truck with SCE letters and Service Disconnect is en route to your home or business, or parked outside.
Fact: SCE does not own or operate vehicles with Service Disconnection signage.
About Southern California Edison
An Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving a population of nearly 14 million via 4.9 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.