In a new take on an old scam, residents and business owners are getting phone calls from people posing as Southern California Edison who threatens to shut off the power unless an immediate payment is made.
Law enforcement officials say check your sources before you send any money.
The scammers would have stolen the money from the local food bank if it wasn’t for the alert actions of the women in charge of it.
Susan Caputo, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, checked her sources before paying Tuesday, but was almost taken in by the sophisticated scam.
“They were pretty convincing,” Caputo said, reflecting on the phone call.
When Caputo answered the phone Tuesday, she was told it was SoCal Edison calling.
Just three days earlier, Caputo had called the utility to say her monthly bill payment was on the way.
“(The caller) said, ‘We have a disconnection notice for your business,” she said. “Unless you pay your bill immediately, your power will be shut off.”
When the phone call was “transferred” to a “technician,” Caputo said it seemed official.
The “technician” said credit card payment wouldn’t work and that sending a check took too long to process.
“He said ‘Go to Rite Aid, or Vons, or CVS Pharmacy, and get some instant credit cards.’ He kept asking me if I had done instant credit before,” Caputo said.
Instead of answering him, Caputo asked to be transferred to a supervisor.
The scammer transferred the call to “supervisor Mike Richardson,” she said.
“He kept telling he was the supervisor and it wasn’t making sense to me,” she said. “Exasperated, he hung up.”
It wasn’t until she called the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station that she learned it was a scam.
“They told me, ‘Oh no, it’s a total scam,’” she said.
Deputy Josh Stamsek said Caputo’s story was not the first Edison scam he’s heard of.
“Contact (Edison) directly,” he said, “before following through with instructions.”
SoCal Edison would never call its customers demanding money, threatening to cut power, said Susan Cox, spokeswoman for the utility, on Wednesday.
“We never call customers to collect payment,” she said. “If anybody calls and says ‘We’re going to turn your electricity off, that’s a red flag.”
The scam, according to Cox and other representatives, is commonplace and international in scope.
The FBI, which investigates such scams, warns people to ignore demands for immediate payment.
“This is… a recent variation on a very common scheme,” Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles, said Wednesday.
“The variations are endless but the bottom line is this: The FBI advises individuals to ignore requests to wire money anywhere and always check directly with the company in question if unclear about whether your account is in good status.
“Scams should be reported to the FBI at www.ic3.gov — that’s the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Additional tips can be found at fbi.gov. “
The Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, on Railroad Avenue, was set up in 1986 after responding to a need to address hunger in the SCV.
Over the course of the decade that followed, the need remained, motivating Pantry staff to continue their efforts to confront the issue of local hunger head on.
In 2010, the SCV Food Pantry distributed more than $1.3 million worth of food — about 2,000 pounds each day of operation — to those less fortunate in our community.