The number of businesses targeted by phone scams designed to swindle money out of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers has mushroomed in recent years, and the Chinatown neighborhood has been hit hard by the scammers.
Victims get a call from someone claiming to be with LADWP, demanding money for a past due bill that can only be paid via an untraceable pre-paid card.
Matthew Lim and his family own a restaurant in Chinatown, and said they get regular calls from scam artists pretending to be from LADWP. They fell for it the first time, and lost $1500.
“Pay us, they say, or we’ll shut off your power in an hour,” he said. “I got really mad the first time they got me.”
Lim isn’t the only one, said George Yu of the Chinatown Business Improvement District.
Yu’s group has distributed fliers warning merchants of the scams.
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“Business is difficult even in the best of times and there’s nothing worse than being preyed upon,” he said.
Patrick Findley, security services director for LADWP, said the agency’s representatives will never make a verbal demand for payment.
“We don’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got plenty of notification. If your bill is behind, you’re going to get plenty of warnings, plenty of written notices from DWP.”
Findley said all legitimate payments by phone are always automated and not taken by live employees.
The scheme is similar to ones that have affected utility company customers across the country.
Southern California Edison has also reported a steep increase in the number of complaints it has received and has warned customers to contact its customer service line as well as local authorities if it receives a demand for payment by phone call.