CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Michele Gile has reported on utility scams before, but this was the first time she personally intervened to help an Orange County business owner from becoming another victim of the scam.
Gile was picking up lunch at one of her usual spots, Niki’s Indian Food, when the owner, Anjum Malik, asked for her help. He had just received a call from a man identifying himself as Brian Wong and claiming to be a supervisor with Southern California Edison (SCE). The man demanded immediate payment confirmation or Malik’s electricity would be disconnected.
“[The owner] said, ‘Michele, it’s happening again,’” said Gile, noting that Niki’s was victimized for $500 previously and was profiled in one of her earlier pieces about utility scams in Santa Ana. “I wanted to hear what [the scammer] would say. I know he was calling not only this customer, but countless other SCE customers.”
Gile called the 714 number back and a professional-sounding man answered claiming to be with SCE. He asked that Malik provide an 18-digit confirmation number from his bank since it looked like there was a mix-up with his last payment.
Since Gile already knew what to do, she hung up with the impostor and called SCE’s security office to report the impostor. She then called the Santa Ana Police Department since she knows there is currently an open case on utility scams in the city.
Gile also called SCE’s Customer Service department to let them know about the impostor. She was able to confirm that Malik’s last payment had indeed posted and all of his payments were up-to-date.
“I’m so angry that it’s continuing. I feel so sorry for these people who work so hard,” she said. “They pay their bills on time and they are trying to be good customers.”
Malik is thankful Gile walked into his restaurant at that moment and he is grateful for her help.
“This time I was lucky. Michelle came to eat lunch by chance,” said Malik, who has owned Niki’s for the past eight years. “I really appreciated her help.”
He encourages others businesses to not fall for these scams and to know that SCE will never call its customers demanding immediate payment.
“Next time I get a call, I’m going to ignore the call and hang up,” he said. “I will call SCE directly” at 1-800-655-4555.
After reporting the incident to SCE and the police, Gile called the scammer back and called his bluff.
Shortly afterward, the magicJack number the impostor had provided was disconnected.
“If I can do anything to stop one person from losing money, I want to expose these people. I just want them caught,” said Gile. “I want people to be super vigilant. Pay attention to the news. We do these stories for a reason.”