San Diego Gas & Electric urged the public on Tuesday to beware of scams that exploit people's reliance on essential services to cheat them out of money, a type of crime that has become more common amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year alone, SDG&E customers have reported more than 25,000 such crimes, a figure that averages out into nearly 80 per day, the utility reported as part of Utility Scam Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign to spread the word about utility impostors.
"With more people staying at home or possibly facing financial difficulty, scammers try to take advantage of the situation," SDG&E warned.
If a caller claims to work for SDG&E and asks for payment over the phone, it is a scam, according to the utility. SDG&E urges customers to only provide financial information by telephone if they initiated the call themselves.
One common tactic of utility scammers is one in which they pose as employees of a government or state agency and threaten to cut off service unless they get immediate payment, according to SDG&E.
Another involves scammers impersonating a utility's billing department and asking for payment via Green Dot MoneyPak, a way of sending cash via prepaid or debit cards. Known as the "Pay by Phone" or "Green Dot" scam, the crime also centers on threats of immediate power shutoffs to scare customers into making bogus "payments."
Once victims purchase the debit cards, or make wire transfers based on the thieves' instructions, they are asked to call another phone number to provide the card information, which allows the perpetrators to steal the money.
In some cases, a phone number provided by the scammers plays a recorded message and menu options that mimic SDG&E's official customer service line. When victims call the number, they may hear a recorded message that tells them they are calling SDG&E's business line and gives them menu options, including paying their bills or reporting a gas leak or power outage.
"Customers should know that SDG&E does not ask (them) to pay using methods such as Green Dot MoneyPak or cryptocurrency," the utility advised. "Additionally, SDG&E will never proactively contact customers requesting their credit card, banking or other financial information or threaten immediate disconnection. Even if you have a past-due balance ... we will always provide past-due notices in writing before shutting off service and offer payment-plan options."
SDG&E has implemented protections for customers who are struggling to pay their bills, including flexible payment plans for up to 12 months, suspending disconnections for nonpayment and waiving late fees for businesses.
According to the utility, SDG&E will never:
- call a customer to ask for payment information. Customers may receive communications directing them to pay their bill via their MyAccount at sdge.com, use the Billmatrix system, or to call and use the automated pay-by- phone option at 800-411-7343.
- request that a customer use prepaid debit cards for payments or such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin to pay their bill.
- send emails with an online payment method with a QR matrix barcode.