SCE offers warning on immediate payment demands, safety tips
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: August 07, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Early in 2013 Southern California Edison (SCE) started to receive an alarming number of reports of bill payment scams targeting utility customers. And, judging from a recent incident of an area business being targeted for the scam for a second time in five months, utility customers must be aware of the various methods thieves are using to separate victims from their money.
These scams often involve a customer receiving a phone call from a fake utility worker - or in the local cases a collection agency - asking for immediate payment on an alleged past due account or their electrical service will be cut off. Usually the customer is asked to make the payment using a prepaid cash or debit card. In the recent local incident, the intended victim was told a courier would pick up the prepaid cash card.
With the emergence of the new scam, it’s important for people to increase awareness about payment scams in general so customers understand the red flags and know what to do.
In the recent area attempts, the separate demands for payment of overdue utility bills were different amounts, about $1,000 the first time and $504.95 the second time. So far this year the scam has targeted about 800 residential and business customers, and reported losses average from $800 to $1,000. According to a SCE statement, about 150 utility customers have paid out to the scam.
“We ask our customers to be alert to these calls that demand immediate payment and threaten service disconnection,” said Henry Martinez, SCE vice president of Safety, Security & Compliance. “Customers suspecting a fraudulent call should ask for the caller’s name, department and business phone number. If the caller refuses to provide this information, customers should terminate the call and report the incident immediately to local police or SCE at 800-655-4555.”
SCE will never ask its customers to make an immediate payment or risk having their electricity shut off. SCE utility workers are trained to provide verification - including their department and contact number - when asked to do so by a customer.
Keep in mind also that an employee of any utility company will never come to a customer’s household or place of business asking for payment. In most cases, home visits by SCE and other utilities are scheduled by the customer and the appointment will be confirmed in writing.
If a stranger approaches you at your home or place of business, law enforcement strongly advises that you have the purported utility worker wait outside until their identity can be verified. Other safety tips include never reveal your credit card, ATM or calling-card numbers (or PIN numbers) to anyone.
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 setup by the caller to ensure no one is home while they break into the home.
Be suspicious of anyone who arrives at your house without an appointment asking to check an appliance or wiring, or suggesting that there may be some other electrical problem inside or outside your residence. Again, do not let this person inside your home or in any area other than the one used by the public at your business.
For more ways customers can protect themselves, visit www.SCE.com and read the safety tips section.