The number of local residents and businesses targeted by phone scams designed to swindle money out of Southern California Edison customers has skyrocketed in the last year, and officials are warning customers to be wary.
Victims receive a call from someone claiming to represent the utility company. They often have sensitive account information and demand payment for a past due bill, with the threat of imminent shut-off unless the customer sends $500 to $1,000 via an untraceable pre-paid card, often a Green Dot card.
Rancho Cucamonga resident Nancy Gurguis said she almost fell for the trick when a man called and told her she needed to pay $500 or the electricity would be shut off.
She went to a nearby Rite Aid and handed money to a cashier to get the card.
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"The clerk there, he had money in his hands. He goes, 'I don’t think I'd pay this if I were you,'" Gurguis recalled.
She took his advice and walked away. She reported the ordeal to SCE and was told she was one of many who had received similar calls.
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David Song, a spokesman for SCE, said more than 6,000 customers have called to report a similar incident since the beginning of last year. In total, the scammers have taken almost half a million dollars from local customers, mostly from businesses.
Song reminded customers that SCE representatives will never call and make a verbal demand for payment. In the event of a past due bill, the utility company will send two letters, followed by a pre-recorded phone message. Pre-paid cards are not an acceptable method of payment, and anyone approached to pay this way should contact both the company and local authorities, he said.
The scheme is similar to ones that have affected utility company customers across the country and Canada.