Alissa Hazard was in a hurry in the grocery store checkout line when the call came into her cell phone.
“I picked up the call. It was a recorded message saying it was Southern California Edison and, ‘You have a past-due balance, and to avoid service interruption, pay now by pressing one.’ I pressed one, and a calm and nice man came on the phone,” she said.
Hazard was taken aback and told the man she couldn’t pay right then. He said he would wait and eventually spent almost 45 minutes on the phone until she could make a payment of more than $200.
“I should have known something wasn’t right when he waited that long and then asked me to download Zelle® and make a payment,” Hazard said. “Looking back, if anyone calls insisting on money for a past-due amount, ask the caller to tell you what your address is or your name, and if they can’t answer correctly — hang up!”
Think you’d never fall for a scam? Think again. Some of the most common scams take advantage of our basic psychological needs and instincts, catching us off guard and costing consumers billions of dollars annually. Hazard says she is intelligent and understands scams but was too busy and flustered at the moment to make the connection.
Of the SCE customers who have received scam calls this year, about 20% have paid out more than $18,000 after being told to either use Zelle® or go to a convenience store to use bitcoin or a gift card. Scammers use point-to-point payment apps like Zelle® because payments often occur in minutes and can’t be canceled. Because of the high volume of scammers using Zelle®, SCE, and other utilities have joined forces with the mobile payment app to educate customers on how to spot a utility scam.
Video: What is a Utility Scam? | Zelle® (zellepay.com).
“Services we take for granted make the perfect subject for a scammer to exploit,” said Peggy Garcia, an SCE advisor in Information Governance. “These scams, which usually involve claims of a past-due balance that needs to be paid, can happen over the phone, via text message, or email. Scammers prey on our feelings of urgency, so it’s important to remember to slow down and ask questions.”
Jack Bennett was pulling out of his driveway to begin his commute to work when the call came into his cellphone. A man told him a technician was coming to his house to turn off his electricity if he didn’t pay $970 immediately.
Bennett told the scammer, “I pay my bill online, and I know I have a credit because of my solar.” The scammer said the website had changed, and he was past due and gave him an 877 number to call. Bennett called the number, saying, “it sounded just like SCE with the on-hold music and automation, but I felt skeptical and uneasy and told them I was checking my account online.” Bennett hung up and avoided the scam.
National Consumer Protection Week is March 5-11. SCE is working to share information about consumer rights and help people learn to spot, report and avoid scams. To learn the science behind scams and how to avoid them, Zelle® has provided customers with an in-depth educational website: Zelle® Pay It Safe (vox.com).
Scammers try to use untraceable payment methods, so be on guard! If you detect suspicious activity, hang up and contact SCE directly at 1-800-655-4555, via email@example.com or by completing SCE’s online fraud form. You should also report the scam attempt to local law enforcement.