Utilities scam targets small businesses


Since the publication of “Three Rivers business owner target of utilities scam” (Who’s News, by Allison Millner, February 20, 2015 / print edition and e-Edition only], new information has come to light. The same utilities scam that nearly victimized Sierra Subs and Salads in Three Rivers has in fact victimized more than 8,000 Southern California Edison customers since 2012, and that’s only the number of reported victims.      

Several local business owners reported getting a similar call from a scammer posing as a SCE account manager. At least one local business person paid the phony account manager hundreds of dollars to avoid what they believed was the imminent disconnection of their electricity.

Scam artists often pick the busiest time of the day to scare the unsuspecting owner into acting quickly to avoid losing business. The amount stolen in the utility scams averages between $800 and $1,000. 

The scammers usually say the quickest way to remedy the situation is to purchase a prepaid cash card and instruct the victim to call back with the card number.

For most small businesses when they get scammed it’s difficult to pay legitimate bills, employee wages, make tax payments – it can be a huge impact.

“These scams aren’t just happening in California,” said Kari Gardner, SCE consumer affairs manager. “They’re happening across the country.”

Even though utility scammers are being investigated in numerous states, no arrests have been made to date. A copy of the Commonwealth story was forwarded to the SCE corporate office because the account information that was known by the scammer might indicate there has been a breach of customer information.     

SCE offers these tips for avoiding scams: SCE employees never ask for money in person. Never reveal credit card, debit card, or PIN numbers to anyone. 

If fraud is suspected, ask for the caller’s name, department, and business phone number, then contact law enforcement and SCE. SCE representatives are available around the clock at (800) 655-4555 to answer billing or credit-related questions.

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