Holiday Alert: Beware of Utility Imposters

November 17, 2006

November 17, 2006

ROSEMEAD, Calif., Nov. 17, 2006—The holidays have a way of bringing out the best in many people, but Southern California Edison (SCE) warns that they also can provide new opportunities for utility imposters to prey on the community.

“The holidays can be a hectic time for many of us,” said Robert Sypult, SCE director of corporate security, “and this may cause some of us to be distracted and a little less vigilant than normal.  We want our customers to be suspicious of anyone who calls demanding questionable payments or comes to their home or business without an appointment and wants to check an appliance, wiring or any electrical problem that allows them inside.”

SCE officials have noted increased activity in recent months by scam artists impersonating SCE employees, including several attempts by criminals threatening service disconnection if a payment isn’t made quickly to “Megan” via Western Union or a designated location or account.

On at least one occasion this year, the scammers have even used a truck with a boom parked nearby while threatening to disconnect service if payment wasn’t made.

Customers are always encouraged to call the SCE customer service number (1-800-655-4555) to verify a disconnect order is pending.

“We’re encouraging our customers to be careful and check identification before letting anyone into their homes,” said Sypult.

Impostors often target seniors, the disabled, and those who don’t speak or understand English well.

While utility imposters often work in pairs so that one can distract a victim while the other steals cash, jewelry or other items of value inside a home, the latest rash of scams involve phone calls and wire payments.

In one incident involving an elderly Arcadia resident, someone claiming to be an SCE representative demanded credit card information from a customer to pay a past-due balance. The caller gave a toll-free number and employee identification number to the customer.  Unfortunately, the customer provided her credit card number.  The customer later learned that their credit card account had wrongfully been charged $400.

Most visits by utility workers are regularly scheduled or requested by the customer. Also, SCE notifies a customer several times in writing before an SCE employee appears to disconnect electrical services.  Vendors engaged by SCE can visit to perform energy efficiency improvements, but customers first must respond to a request from the vendor, so customers should not be surprised by a visit.

Most SCE employees wear uniforms and all SCE employees carry company identification.  Customers who encounter utility imposters are urged to immediately notify the police and call SCE at (800) 655-4555.

SCE offers the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of a utility representative imposter:

  • SCE employees never demand that you wire money via Western Union to prevent your electricity being shut off.
  • Never reveal your credit card, automated teller machine, telephone calling card or personal identification numbers to anyone, especially over the telephone.
  • Before paying bills at a store or business, customers can verify that a vendor is an SCE authorized payment agent by calling 800-655-4555.
  • SCE employees will not ask for money, a credit card or to use a customer’s telephone.
  • Be suspicious if someone shows up without an appointment asking to check an appliance, wiring or suggesting another electrical problem may be inside your home.
  • Payments intended for SCE should only be made out to “Southern California Edison” or “SCE.”
  • Do not let anyone into your home unless you verify who they are and see the individual's identification and know the purpose for the visit.
  • If you live alone and a stranger approaches, imply that there is someone else in your home or indicate that someone will be arriving at your home momentarily.
  • If someone calls and requests you to leave your residence at a specific time for a utility-related cause, be sure to confirm the call with SCE.  This could be a burglary set up by the caller.

If an incident does occur, report it to the local police and contact SCE immediately by calling 800-655-4555.

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An Edison International (NYSE:EIX) company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving a population of more than 13 million via 4.7 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within central, coastal and Southern California.