Long Beach, San Bernardino residents report most calls from scammers about fake SCE bills – Orange County Register
More than 4,200 Southern California Edison customers received fake billing calls in the first seven months of 2022, and Long Beach and San Bernardino residents reported the highest numbers.
Some 170 Long Beach residents have contacted the company through July about receiving calls from scammers pretending to be SCE employees. In San Bernardino, 128 customers reported fraudulent calls.
Of those reports, 15 Long Beach residents unwittingly paid nearly $12,000 to scammers. In San Bernardino, nearly $5,600 was paid.
The callers are highly skilled in mimicking employees, using several techniques to appear authentic and to catch customers off guard, Ron Gales, a spokesperson for SCE, said.
The most common tactic involves identifying themselves as SCE employees and telling customers or small businesses that they’re overdue on an account balance, and threatening that a technician is en route to cut their electricity if they do not pay. The caller ID will even show up as “Southern California Edison” on customers’ phones.
“We will never call to threaten a disconnect,” Gales said. “Customers or businesses will always receive at least one notice in the mail before disconnecting.”
The scams have gotten so authentic, some use the same on-hold music as SCE after informing victims they’re being transferred to a manager.
“They’re hoping to catch you when you’re busy or caught up in the commotion of the day and more willing to comply,” Gales said.
Customers most likely to fall prey include seniors and non-English speakers.
Scammers will usually demand that customers provide funds either through a cash-based app like Zelle or by sending prepaid gift cards. Typically the scammers will demand payments between $300 and $800, but in one case this year, a customer in San Fernando was conned out of $18,000, the SCE says.
“In these instances, the scam callers will repeatedly tell customers that their payment didn’t go through, and they continue to try and try until they finally catch on and it’s too late,” Gales said.
Once the money has been sent through those methods, Gales said it becomes nearly impossible to trace or recover the funds.
SCE employed a moratorium at the start of the coronavirus pandemic on disconnections for late payments, but the moratorium ended in July, stoking fear among officials that small businesses may be particularly vulnerable to threats of having their power cut off, hurting their business and income.
But even with disconnections on hold, customers across SCE’s coverage area reported being scammed out of more than $279,198 in the first seven months of the year.
More than half that amount was sent through mobile cash apps.
SCE regularly sends out flyers, notices and letters to customers on how to distinguish between a real employee and spam caller.
“We don’t have a disconnections department, we never accept prepaid gift cards or bitcoin as payment and we will never ask for credit card, social security numbers or (a) driver’s license over the phone,” Gales said.
Customers who have been the victims of fraudulent bill scams should contact SCE’s customer support line at 800-990-7788, or by emailing [email protected]
Southern California cities with the highest number of scam calls reported include:
- Long Beach: 170 calls, $11,758.44 lost
- San Bernardino, 128 calls, $5,588.30 lost
- Santa Ana, 124 calls, $11,084.33 lost
- Irvine, 86 calls, $1,006.88 lost
- Fontana, 82 calls, $7,702.67 lost
- Apple Valley, 72 calls, $4,112.98 lost
- Whittier, 72 calls, $2,248.00 lost
- Victorville, 69 calls, $5,697.41 lost
- Los Angeles, 65 calls, $6,365.48 lost
- Huntington Beach, 64 calls, $17,828.84 lost