Our corporate security team at San Diego Gas & Electric has recently documented an uptick in utility scammers trying to defraud local utility customers. Last month alone, customers reported roughly three times the number of utility-related financial scams compared to March of this year.
If you believe an incoming utility call is suspicious – terminate the call – then call SDG&E’s Customer Contact Center at 1-800-411-7343.
The sophisticated ruse most often includes a fraudulent phone caller posing as a utility “collections” employee. The victim is told their account is delinquent and their electricity will be shut off within the next hour if they do not pay the past due amount immediately. Additionally, they may be warned a technician may arrive within the next 30-45 minutes to shut off the power. Victims are told to call a new 1-800 or 1-888 number which may give the victim the impression they have retained some level of control because they are initiating action.
Targeted customers are asked to pay in non-traceable Bitcoin, Zelle, Green Dot debit cards, or other non-traditional forms of payment that SDG&E does not use. Compounding the loss – targets are told over and over the payment did not go through and the victim unwittingly repeats the financial transaction. They are told to keep trying because any amount overpaid will result in an expedited refund. The losses can be staggering. -- A local business recently was swindled of more than $25,000 with that technique.
These scams are often internationally based but use software to make it look like they are calling from a 619, 858, or 760 area code, also known as caller ID spoofing.
Victims most prone to fraud include restaurant owners, small businesses, homeowner associations, the elderly, and limited-English speakers. The fraudsters capitalize on victims whose livelihood depends on a consistent source of electricity. For example, the imposters have been known to call restaurateurs just prior to the lunch hour to add pressure. The owner, depending on the noontime crowd pressure, complies with the fraudulent demands for payment.
The scammers are persistent with their questions and threats. The scams vary in levels of sophistication including being passed off to other role players to give the perception the imposter is calling from a large organization.
Remember the following tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- SDG&E will never call to demand immediate payment made over the phone with the threat of immediate service disconnection.
- SDG&E will never accept any payment over the phone – any individual requesting payment over the phone is an imposter.
- The only utility bill payment options are My Account, a Branch Office location, or an Authorized Payment Location.
- SDG&E does not accept pre-paid cash cards, Zell, Green Dot, or Bitcoin for bill payments.
- The utility company will never demand cash in person.
- Never provide your utility bill information to anyone you do not know.
- Never provide anyone your on-line utility login credentials.
- Never use the call-back number provided by an unknown caller to verify billing information.
- Have a conversation about utility scams with older family members and friends to ensure they do not fall victim.
- Don’t forget, you can always check your bill and payment history via sdge.com/MyAccount
If you are concerned you are victim of a scam, or concerned for a family member or friend, there are resources available to assist in prevention and federal investigations.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have the below weblinks to send complaints of scams and/or learn further about various other scams currently being tracked. FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, and FBI at www.IC3.gov.