‘Tis the season to be wary.
The holidays can be a time of joyful celebration, but they can quickly turn into a season of despair for customers who let their guard down amid the season’s hustle and bustle and fall victim to telephone scams.
Authorities advise customers this holiday season to stay especially vigilant against utility impostors claiming to be with Southern California Edison (SCE) and demanding immediate payment for allegedly past-due electricity bills. The caller demands that the customer purchase a prepaid cash card for a specific amount of money, call the impostor back and give that person the card number.
Once the impostor collects the value deposited on the card, the money is gone. And sadly, the customer has no chance of getting it back.
“It’s the time of year more people are trying to get money,” said investigator Melanie Cooper with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “People need to know there are a lot of different scams, not just the utility scam. There are callers claiming to be the police, and people calling grandfathers and grandmothers asking for money for their grandkids in jail. We advise people to hang up, call a legitimate law enforcement agency and report these phone calls.”
U.S. consumers reported losing $43 million last year in frauds involving prepaid cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission. However, the total is likely higher since many victims are too embarrassed to admit or report they’ve been scammed.
In recent years, an estimated 13,000 SCE customers have received calls from phone scammers posing as utility employees. Many victims are small business owners and entrepreneurs whose first language is not English.
And while the public has gotten more scam savvy, phone impostors have become more aggressive.
Scammers have recently resorted to making claims that local police will be called to your home or business if an immediate payment is not received. Not true, say SCE officials.
Others have established bogus telephone lines with a pre-recording that states: “Hello, thank you for calling Southern California Edison Disconnection Department.” SCE has no Disconnection Department.
Another twist on the scam involves “double-dipping” and “triple-dipping” victims. Scammed customers are called the day after they’ve paid impostors and told their transaction didn’t go through, to purchase another prepaid cash card and resend the money a second or third time.
Law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to catch these criminals, many of whom operate anonymously over the telephone and outside the U.S. SCE corporate security works closely with local, state and federal police agencies investigating telephone scams.
“The best way for customers to protect themselves against utility impostors and this phone scam is to educate themselves, their employees and their friends about being aware when they receive telephone calls from individuals demanding money for payment,” said Kari Gardner, manager, SCE Consumer Affairs.
Customers who suspect a fraudulent call are advised to ask for the caller’s name, department and business phone number. If the caller refuses to provide this information, SCE customers should hang up and report the incident immediately to local police or SCE at 1-800-655-4555.
SCE’s Customer Service Call Center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. SCE representatives are available to answer customers’ questions about bill payments and other inquiries.
Here are some additional tips:
- SCE will never call and demand immediate payment with the threat of service disconnection.
- An SCE employee will never ask for money in person. SCE employees always have their ID badge displayed for customers to see.
- SCE does not accept prepaid cash cards for bill payments from customers.
- SCE does not conduct credit transactions on weekends or holidays.
- Never reveal personal information, including credit card, ATM or calling card numbers (or PIN numbers) to anyone.
- Never use a call-back number provided by an unknown caller to verify billing information. Instead, call legitimate SCE telephone numbers printed on your utility bill or SCE’s website (SCE.com).
- If someone calls and requests you leave your residence at a specific time for a utility-related cause, call the police. This could be a burglary attempt set up by the caller.
- Be suspicious of anyone who arrives at your house without an appointment asking to check an appliance, wiring or suggesting that there may be some other electrical problem inside or outside your residence.
For more ways customers can stay safe, visit on.sce.com/staysafe.