Don’t Buy It: Scammers Pose Empty Threats to Cut Electricity

After The Malibu Times recently wrote about gift card scams, some Malibu locals have been discussing other scams widely perpetrated—many using the cover of Southern California Edison (SCE).

There are a few different tricks thieves are using while posing as SCE, according to Edison spokesperson Ron Gales.

“The most common phone scam we hear about is people calling claiming to be from SCE and claiming you’re going to be disconnected within the hour,” Gales said. “[Scammers say,] ‘There’s a truck already on its way. You need to pay right away using a credit card or gift card.’

“The very first thing people should know is there is a disconnection moratorium right now,” he continued. “It goes through Sept. 30. If anyone calls saying you’re about to be disconnected, it’s a scam. There are no residential or small business disconnections going on right now.” Due to the pandemic, Gales explained, “We suspended disconnections back in March 2020.”

Gales assured SCE “will never threaten disconnection over the phone and it will never be immediate. People who are at risk for disconnection get warning notices by mail.”

And in a new twist, fraudsters posing as the utility are asking for payments via money-sending apps.

“Because it’s so easy for people to just hit a few buttons on their phone and send money, this has been really effective,” Gales described. “We’re finding [that] of the money that’s been lost this year that’s been reported to SCE, about a third of it is through these types of mobile payment services. We’ve tracked close to $300,000 lost from customers this year so far. That’s almost as much as was reported all of last year. Scam activity is very high.”

Sophisticated thieves are also taking advantage of the pandemic to trick you out of your money. The California Public Utilities Commission directed utilities to institute a range of customer assistance policies during this turbulent past year. Now many of those programs are ending—except for the disconnection moratorium.

The scam works like this: You may see an official-looking notice on social media, on a postcard or elsewhere that purports to be from Southern California Edison regarding COVID-19 related customer assistance policies that will be ending soon, as the pandemic appears to be waning. The posted signage may claim as part of these assistance policies you can get your utility bill debt erased.  A number to call is provided. When you call the spoofed number, an imposter asks for your bank account details in order to help you. Of course, it’s a con artist on the line about to hack into your account.

“If people hear those protections are ending soon they might be more susceptible to these kinds of scams,” Gales surmised. Since all correspondence is done through the mail, no SCE employee will ever come to your door—”We don’t send people to the door,” Gales confirmed.

So, be skeptical.  Report these fraudsters to the police and to SCE, which tracks the latest scams perpetrated using their company as a guise. 

To avoid being victimized, know that:

•SCE does not currently have a disconnection department—and won’t, at least through September.

•SCE will never ask for credit card information or credit reports in person, through text, email or by phone.

•SCE employees will not demand or accept payment in the field.

•SCE does not accept prepaid cash cards, bitcoin or mobile payment apps.

•SCE does not sell energy-related home improvement products.

•SCE will never ask for electric usage or meter information in person, through text, email or over the phone.

•SCE will not call you outside the hours of 9 a.m.-9 p.m. except to provide customer requested outage updates.

•Always call the SCE number on your bill or customer service at 800.655.4555

A reminder and warning from Gales, especially regarding gift cards and mobile money sending apps: “Once someone hits send, that money is gone. It’s like putting cash in an envelope and dropping it in the mailbox. There’s very little way to get that money back.”

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