IRWINDALE (CBSLA.com) — Impostors have called thousands of Southern California Edison customers within the past six months claiming to be with the utility company.
John Lee, who runs Jinza Teriyaki restaurant in Pomona, says he's been harassed by callers claiming to be from SCE.
"Very threatening and aggressive. They really wanted that credit card information," he said. "They said, 'No, you need to give your credit card information and then you need to pay this. If you don't, we'll turn off the electricity in an hour.' "
He quickly checked his balance online.
"'This is a scam. What are you guys trying to do here?' " Lee asked the caller.
He is just one of more than 3,500 SCE customers that have received utility scam calls in the past six months. But SCE says hundreds of customers have fallen for it, losing more than $1,000.
"On an average, the dollar amount that they are beings scammed for is about $1,300," said Kari Gardner of SCE.
Gardner says it's a "nationwide epidemic."
"They're a lot more creative than they were in the past and the dollar amounts of the victims are increasing as well," she said.
In some cases, the scammers are so crafty, the caller ID even shows up as "Southern California Edison."
Even Rosetta Henderson of Downey, a SCE employee, was targeted.
"It just said, 'Southern California Edison.' It didn't give me a number to call them back," she said. "He said, 'I'll give you 30 minutes. You can go to Walmart and you could get either a prepaid card or you could wire the money.' "
Henderson didn't take the bait but can see how many get scared into it.
Police agencies say, once the money is gone, it's nearly impossible to get it back.
"Fraudsters are the people conducting the fraud schemes are pretty sophisticated," said Sgt. Bob Hung of the Monterey Park Police Department. "They would use voice-over IPs, computerized telephone numbers that were generated."
SCE says it doesn't have a "disconnection department" and do not take prepaid cards for bill pay. The company also says they will never threaten to disconnect by phone.
"If they are threatening you for a disconnection, you can call and even find out very quickly whether or not your service is in that state and what your balance is due," Gardner said.
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