Small Businesses Warned to Look Out for Utility Scam

NBC 7 Responds looks at the scam targeting restaurants and small businesses around the county.

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Many small businesses and restaurants have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers are trying to take advantage of that with some high-pressure tactics.

Jose Aleandro Ramirez of Tacos Asadero in Rancho Bernardo said he was floored when a caller threatened to shut off the shop's electricity unless they paid right away. He said his business had been struggling through the pandemic and he couldn't lose a single day of business, so he scrambled to find the money.

Ramirez said he thought the call was legitimate because he was behind on a utility payment, but thankfully, he never sent the money. He called SDG&E and was told the previous call was a scam.

"There has been a three-fold uptick in reports of this type of scam to our loss-prevention security department," said Anthony Wagner, Communications Manager at SDG&E. "We are helping customers navigate that with their insurance companies."

SDG&E says the callers usually make it look like they are calling from a local number and impersonate utility employees. Sometimes they even give out a specific 800 or 888 number. In some cases, restaurants were called right before the lunch rush so they would be pressured to pay the fake fee.

"One business was swindled out of an excess of $25,000 because they were told their payment wasn't going through," said Wagner.

The callers are also targeting people more at risk of scams, including the elderly and limited-English speakers. If you are called by someone saying they are a utility worker, remember these:

  • SDG&E will not call to demand payment over the phone and threaten to shut off your power.
  • SDG&E will not accept payments over the phone.
  • Your bill will never be paid in cash cards, over Zelle or using Bitcoin
  • Do not use the call-back number provided, instead go to SDG&E's website to make sure you have the right number.
  • Do not give anyone your online account login information over the phone

If you think you or a family member are the victim of a scam, contact the FTC or FBI.

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