Your Utility Company Is Not Cutting You Off

Scammers are targeting older residents of Hermosa Beach, especially senior citizens who live alone, as well as small business owners, and threatening to shut off their power or gas unless they paid some fictitious unpaid utility bills.

Most of the victims targeted are customers of Southern California Edison, the primary electricity supply company for much of Southern California. Southern California Edison has a 15 million customer base and has a service territory of approximately 50,000 square miles, including the beach cities.

Scammers claiming to be employees of the utility company would call an unsuspecting customer and inform them of unpaid electricity bills. Without giving the victim time to process the information, or at the slightest sign of self-doubt, the scammers swoop in and threaten to cut their power unless the customer makes payment immediately via reloadable debit cards or gift cards.

Typically, scammers would direct the victim to purchase the card at a convenience store and read the serial number back to them over the telephone. But, it does not stop there. These scammers also phish for the unsuspecting victim’s credit card details, drain the victims’ accounts and ruin their credit.

According to Southern California Edison, some 433 customers have reported losing over $300,000 to these scammers. There is a pattern to these scams as most victims are seniors, small business owners, and residents whose first language is not English. The average loss is about $700 per victim; one victim reported losing as much as $16,000 to scammers.

Because of how scammers operate, these monies are near impossible to trace and recover. But it is possible to confirm the identity of an unknown caller on the phone with a California Phone Lookup, much like an online white page listing the phone number, contact information, and address of owners in California. Suppose the information from a phone search does not match the identity the unknown caller provided when they called. They are most likely a scammer. Authorities advise residents to end the call, block the number, and report the scam to the Federal Communications Commission.  

Law enforcement has shut down many of the numbers reported, but the scammers continue their maraud through the beach cities by registering new phone numbers once authorities block their old ones. So far, a reverse phone search has been most effective at identifying unknown callers impersonating SCE employees.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison maintains that its employees will never contact customers out of the blues and threaten to cut their power for unpaid bills. Also, the utility company does not accept payment for outstanding bills over the phone without prior notification via mail. Neither does it accept debit cards nor gift cards as payment. The utility company will only contact customers via mail before taking any action over a non-payment.

Usually, Southern California Edison first sends a customer a letter regarding their outstanding utility bills. If the customer does not respond or take any action, the company will send a second letter laying out the timeline for disconnection. Even with these multiple notices, Southern California Edison encourages customers to verify a bill if they have the slightest doubt. The urgency that scammers exploit is also unfounded because the utility company offers payment plans and lets customers automate their utility bills with automated payment.

Customers can call (800) 655-4555 if they have questions regarding their bills. Likewise, customers who suspect a scam can also report potential scam attempts at csinfogov@sce.com or by using the company’s online fraud form.

For questions or reports to other utility companies in Hermosa Beach, see the services and utilities page.  

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Written by: Special Contributor

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