According to a Nixle Alert issued by the Newport Beach Police Department, aggressive scammers continue to call businesses and residents throughout Orange County, including Newport Beach.
The callers use a variety of guises: pretending to be from a utility company (i.e. Southern California Edison) or a government agency (i.e. IRS), or to be a family member in distress.
The scammers may harass the persons they speak to, escalating to threats that utilities will be disconnected, or that a warrant or arrest is imminent, if payment is not received. In other cases, the scammers impersonate family members who are in trouble and need funds quickly.
The scammers will then request immediate payment via a Green Dot Money Pak card or a wire transfer; both of these payment methods should be highly suspect if requested by an unknown person.
Green Dot Money Pak cards are reloadable debit cards, which are not linked to a specific bank account. They are virtually untraceable once money is loaded onto the card. With a wire transfer, once the money is sent there is no way to stop the transaction. If the money is sent to a foreign country, U.S. authorities have no jurisdiction to pursue the matter and authorities rarely, if ever, are able to recover the consumer’s payment.
Neither the IRS, local law enforcement, nor utilities companies will contact you demanding immediate payment. Also, they will not request payment via a prepaid/reloadable debit card.
At this week’s Newport Beach Restaurant Association meeting, several board members who own restaurants in the city said they had been contacted by callers claiming to be from Southern California Edison. The caller threatened to have the electricity in the restaurant shut off if a payment was not made immediately. Fortunately, none of the restaurants were taken in by the scam.
Southern California Edison has provided the following list of “red flags” that can help you recognize a possible scammer:
Phone numbers: Phone scammers often use “off” phone numbers like 888 or different number combinations. SCE uses 800 numbers for any customer contacts.
Extension numbers: Imposters use extension numbers to make themselves appear more legitimate. SCE does not use extension numbers.
Threats: SCE does not threaten customers with service shut-off for two weeks.
Reloaded Debit Cards: SCE does not accept Green Dot or Vanilla reload debit cards.
Weekends/Holidays: SCE does not call customers on weekends or on holidays.
Here are general tips to help avoid the various scams mentioned above:
For calls from alleged utility companies or government agencies, do not give out any personal information until you have verified the identity of the caller. Ask the caller for their name, department, and business phone number. Confirm that information by calling the organization at a phone number found on the internet or through official correspondence/billing statements. If the caller refuses to provide this information, terminate the call and report the incident to the police immediately.
For calls from an alleged grandchild, or other family member, do not fill in the blanks for the caller. Often, they do not know the name of your loved one, but are relying on you to provide that information. Ask callers to identify themselves. (If you do not provide them any information, they will likely hang up.) Also, verify the whereabouts of the alleged caller by contacting other family members, or use a number you already have on file to reach the person they claim to be. Do not use telephone numbers provided by the caller.
Never give out personal identifying information, such as bank account or credit card account numbers, to anyone you do not know.
Be wary of anyone attempting to collect a debt by telephone or email.
Seniors are more susceptible to be victimized in these types of scams, so keep your elderly relatives informed about these incidents.