"Paula" knows firsthand the aggressive tactics used by scammers to steal money from Southern California Edison customers.
“There was a customer who got a call about her smart meter and was told it could catch on fire and her family would die if she didn’t pay to replace the meter,” recalls the business analyst with SCE Information Governance who asked that her real name not be used.
The most common utility phone scam involves calling customers, falsely claiming to be from SCE and threatening to turn off service unless they make an immediate payment via a prepaid card. Another is caller ID spoofing in which a customer’s telephone displays false information to fool them into thinking they have a real SCE call when they don’t.
Last year, scams cost SCE customers about $500,000. Yet, despite SCE’s best efforts to raise awareness, unsuspecting customers continue to fall victim to these ongoing deceptions.
Paula, working with information collected from Customer Call Center representatives, spends her days tracking scam calls to SCE and calling phone impostors. Her sole purpose: disconnecting their fake phone numbers and putting them out of business.
In five months, she has successfully disconnected more than 630 phone numbers used by scammers to call SCE customers. On a good day, Paula averages between 10-15 phone number disconnections.
“I love being able to stop these criminals from stealing from our customers when I can,” she says.
Kari Gardner, SCE senior manager of Consumer Affairs, said it’s important for customers to stay vigilant, educate themselves and others and recognize red flags that signal a scam.
“Education is the key to protecting yourself,” said Gardner. “It’s critical that you be aware if you receive unsolicited telephone calls from individuals demanding money for payment.”
SCE is working with some grocery store chains and convenience stores that sell prepaid cards to educate cashiers and other employees to be on the lookout for scam targets.
Through social media — Facebook and Twitter — SCE sends out alerts, and Paula reaches out to law enforcement officials in cities and communities hit by scammers.
“The education is getting out there and that’s a good thing,” she said.
Tips to Avoid Becoming A Utility Phone Scam Victim
- SCE will never demand immediate payment with the threat of service disconnection.
- SCE does not accept prepaid cards for bill payments.
- SCE will never ask for your credit card or SCE account information over the phone.
- SCE does not have a Disconnection Department.
- SCE does not charge customers to replace or update smart meters or other SCE-owned equipment.
- Beware of unsolicited calls in which the caller asks you for billing information and other personal data. Never use the callback number provided by the caller.
- To check your billing and/or account information, call the number on your SCE bill or visit sce.com.
- Be suspicious of calls made multiple times per day and outside normal operating hours.
- Beware of callers who recommend the sale of home improvement products to reduce your energy costs or try to convince you to buy alternative energy sources.
If you suspect fraudulent activity, hang up and report it to local police and to SCE at 1-800-655-4555.
Find more ways to stay safe and protect yourself against scams: on.sce.com/ScamAlert.