Mr. Lucino Salgado, a client of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity (LADWP), said he was scammed over the phone when a person posed as a representative of the agency.
Salgado said the supposed representative was very nice but also told him that he had to pay an outstanding bill of $300 immediately or else his power would be cut off.
“I got scared and fell into their trap,” Salgado said in a video being released by the LADWP to prevent others from falling victim to fraud.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the LADWP has reported that scammers have been taking advantage of their customers during the national state of emergency and response to COVID-19.
Jeri Scott-Lopez, utility manager, said they have received multiple reports of scammers posing as LADWP employees and threatening to shut off water and electricity if payment is not immediately received during the phone call.
“Unfortunately, scammers are trying to take advantage of our customers and are using a variety of tactics,” Scott-Lopez said.
Among the most common tactics are bot calls or contacting customers by phone using pressure tactics to request payment in advance or immediately through prepaid cards or any mechanism to try to get a customer to make an immediate payment.
“LADWP does not use threat or pressure tactics to try to get a customer to make a payment and we do not ask customers to make a payment over the phone with a real person at the time of the call,” Scott-Lopez explained.
The methods and options that customers have to pay their bills are by telephone through an automated system, in person at any of the LADWP service centers, through regular mail or through the website.
Scott-López said that they have noticed the increase in fraud in recent years through the calls they receive from their own clients.
“We have had customers contact us to let us know that they have been the victim of a scam or have received a phone call or been contacted by a potential scammer,” the spokeswoman said.
She encourages customers that when something like this happens to them and they are not sure of the veracity of the supposed representative, they call 800-342-5397 to report what happened.
He indicated that it is best to be prevented before they become a victim. And if they have already provided their personal information or account information or made a payment, they are encouraged to contact the police to report that they were the victim of a scam.
Once the person has sent the money to the scammers it cannot be reimbursed by the LADWP because they were not the recipient of the funds.
Scott-Lopez said LADWP has also seen an increase in calls from customers reporting people coming onto their property claiming to be LADWP.
The spokeswoman said that there are times when LADWP staff visit properties as part of their normal operations. But when doing this they are required to provide identification to prove that they belong to the LADWP.
“If a customer is uncomfortable with someone on their property and they are not sure they can request identification, they can call us to verify that someone authorized by LADWP is scheduled or should be on the property at that time,” said Scott-Lopez.
The LADWP has a program called “Help is on the way,” which is a comprehensive program that provides a wide variety of resources and support for customers who may be experiencing financial challenges.
“We have extended payment plans of up to 48 months, we have discount programs for customers who qualify,” said the spokeswoman. “Our internal customer service section can talk about other state and federal programs that are available, provide recommendations to customers.”
With the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic, many people may have accumulated debts, which becomes another way in which scammers can take advantage since they can notify them of unpaid debts to scare them.
People can find more information at ladwp.com/cares or by calling 800-342-5397.