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Don’t Be Fooled by Utility Bill, Meter Scammers

SCE wants customers to know that it will never ask for immediate payment over the phone and threaten to disconnect your power. When in doubt, call the utility number on your official bill.

Shutting down scammers is Paula’s day job at Southern California Edison, so she does not want to divulge her identity. Each morning, she handles up to 100 customer calls reporting utility bill and meter scammers.

It’s a job she has performed for three years now and the number of
utility scam calls she looks into remains steady, even as more families continue to work from home and children are distance learning.

Her message to customers: “SCE is not doing disconnections during the pandemic and we are not removing meters. We will work with you on payments.”

Scammers use numerous methods to try to fool customers. A new one since the start of COVID-19 is the use of payment apps like Zelle and Cash App to try and swindle money from customers. In the past, prepaid cards bought at the local grocery store were the popular scam payment method.

Scammers also use spoof calls where the caller ID mimics SCE’s phone number. A good practice is to get the callback number from the scammer, then hang up and call the number on your official SCE bill. This helps the utility disconnect the scammers.

“Unfortunately, as soon as I manage to shut them down, others will ramp up,” said Paula.

SCE is not doing disconnections during the pandemic and we are not removing meters. We will work with you on payments.”

SCE employee Paula

She noted that more and more mom and pop businesses like hair salons and auto mechanics are among the customers being targeted.

From January to August of this year, SCE received nearly 8,600 customer complaints. Of these, almost 300 customers paid nearly $214,000 to the scammers. During the same time last year, SCE customers lost more than $287,000.

Another tactic scammers use is the robocall, where they leave a voice mail threatening to shut off electrical service if you do not call back and pay immediately. This is a scam. Part of Paula’s job is to report these robocall numbers and, if warranted, the numbers are disconnected.

“Sometimes the scammer does not have a callback number and will try to stay on the phone and walk the customer through payment,” she said. “Sadly, the money will be gone, and the customers can’t get it back.”

Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a utility bill scam:

  • SCE does not have a “disconnection department.”
  • SCE will never demand an immediate payment with the threat of disconnection.
  • SCE does not accept prepaid cash cards or bitcoins for bill payments.
  • SCE will never ask for your credit card or account information over the phone.
  • SCE employees will not demand to collect, or accept, payment in the field.

To learn more tips on how to avoid these scams, visit: sce.com/scamalert.