SoCal Edison officials are warning of scammers calling customers and threatening to shut off their power if they don’t pay $500 in prepaid debit cards.
It's a scam that has been going on for months, but officials say the bogus callers are becoming more aggressive and sophisticated.
"When SCE started doing TV news interviews about the scam, customers got wiser and the impostors started collecting less money," said Arthur Chico from SCE corporate security. "So they increased their monthly volume of calls from 300 to 500 to 1,200 to 1,500. They picked up their efforts, employed more callers, used faked names and used fake employee numbers."
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Since December 2012, more than 8,000 customers have been targeted in SCE’s service territory. Of that number, between 800 and 900 customers have lost an average of $1,000 to $2,000, others more than $3,000.
Statistics show more than $250,000 in losses to SCE customers.
What makes the scam so difficult to stop is that the majority of calls come from outside the United States, making the apprehension of culprits more challenging, officials said.
"The anonymity of the Internet has made calls more difficult to trace," said Detective Tim Sidentopp of the El Monte Police Department. "We don’t know who’s on the other end of the telephone doing this. And the D.A. can’t prove who it is or where it’s coming from. It’s a phone bank."
A man who said he was called by someone threatening to shut off his power said he was instructed to call 866-978-7049, which has since apparently been disconnected.
"I said you know what, I don't want this to happen to anyone else," said Bill Gillot, a business man was almost fell for the scam before reaching out to SCE, the Sheriff's Department and NBC4.
"It was believeable," Gillot said. "There was a lot of pressure, the phone was ringing, there was a lot of stuff going on, I can understand why people would fall for this sort of thing."
NBC4's Gadi Schwartz tried calling the number Tuesday. A man answered and told him to get to a CVS and purchase a pre-paid MoneyPack for $498.33 so that his power would not get disconnected. When Schwartz told the man he was recording the call, the man began cursing and eventually hung out. Schwartz called more than 40 times, but was unable to connect again.
Edison officials offer the following tips to help people protect themselves:
- Phone numbers. Phone scammers often use "off" phone numbers like 888 or different number combinations. SCE uses 800 numbers for any customer contacts.
- Extension numbers. Imposters use extension numbers to make themselves appear more legitimate. SCE does not use extension numbers.
- Threats. SCE does not threaten customers with service shut-off for two weeks.
- Reloaded Debit Cards. SCE does not accept Green Dot or Vanilla reload debit cards.
- Weekends/Holidays. SCE does not call customers on weekends or during holidays.