SDG&E: Don’t Fall for This Holiday Utility Payment Scam

What Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, Mark Cafferty He’s a pretty smart guy. But last month, after receiving a call that his phone identified as coming from San Diego Gas & Electric, he momentarily thought there might be a problem with his utility bill.

Cafferty said the caller “very confidently” said SDG&E had changed their payment system, notices had been sent to his account and the power at his home was about to go out.

Cafferty told the caller that his bills are paid via direct deposit from his bank and that he had not been made aware of any problems. “As soon as I told him that, he didn’t blink,” Cafferty said, “and he said, ‘That’s the problem we’ve run into is that so many people tell us the same thing.’ ”

The caller said a colleague could help Cafferty review his bank statement, review his SDG&E payments and help him get his money back.

Suspicious, Cafferty hung up and called SDG&E directly and was told the caller was a scammer.

Cafferty is glad he hasn’t been fooled. But aside from the smooth delivery of the person he called, Cafferty was surprised by the fact that the scammer had his name, his wife’s name, his address, and even a number that matched his printed bill of SDG&E.

“It was so well orchestrated that I was like, wow,” said Cafferty, who worries what would happen if the same ruse were tried, for example, on an elderly person, someone who doesn’t speak English fluently or who is struggling financially.

“We (in regional economic development) work with so many small business owners these days, where things are still so vulnerable for them,” Cafferty said. “They have not fully recovered from the pandemic and are still struggling. And something like that could be so jarring if, one, you believed it; and, two, if he got caught up in some kind of scam that caused him to lose money as a result.”

It’s a growing problem, not just in the San Diego area, but in California and across the country.

SDG&E has received 178 reports of scams this year that have cost customers about $173,000. In one case this spring, an impersonator told a homeowners association that their electronic payment didn’t go through. The HOA made multiple payments and ended up losing $26,000.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest investor-owned utility in California, has reported an increase in scams.

So far this year, PG&E has received more than 23,000 reports from customers that combined to be defrauded of almost $1.3 million in fraudulent payments. That’s more than double the number of reports PG&E received in all of 2021.

The Federal Trade Commission determined that utility imposter scams were the Third most common scam category in the country and the Better Business Bureau in a 2017 report said that the the median loss in a utility scam was $500 per customer.

Utility companies have noted an increase in criminal activity during the start of each holiday season, and a consortium of nearly 150 North American power companies are members of a group called Public services united against scams that raises awareness and educates customers on how to avoid being taken away.

The group declared Tuesday Utility Scam Awareness Day.

SDG&E officials said the utility company will never call customers to tell them they need to make an immediate payment by phone or your service will be disconnected.

Another red flag is that the caller wants the customer to pay using apps like Zelle, Green Dot debit cards, or cryptocurrency, which SDG&E doesn’t accept.

If you have any questions, please hang up and call the SDG&E customer service number at (800) 411-7343.

Another ruse is for scammers to call restaurateurs just before lunchtime, threatening an immediate power outage. Owners and managers worried about losing their midday crowd may be vulnerable to fraudulent payment demands.

As for the suspects who may show up at your door, SDG&E says that all of its employees at company businesses are required to carry photo identification.

If a potential scam is sent via text, please do not respond and call the SDG&E customer service line.

Customers can also notify local police and the state attorney general’s office of any suspected scam. They can also report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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