As the holidays near, utility scammers are ramping up their schemes to get money out of residents and business owners in Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena. Recently during a two-week period, Burbank Water and Power reportedly received more than 40 calls from customers complaining about phony utility workers trying to squeeze them for money. Last Wednesday, November 4, just before noon, Laree Adel, owner of Best of Times antiques in Burbank’s Magnolia Park, got one of those crank phone calls.
Adel says the caller claimed to be from the gas company and said “you’re delinquent on your bill.” Adel’s reaction: “I said you’re a scammer and hung up.” That’s exactly what law enforcement and utility representatives want potential victims to do. Hang up or end the call. Yesterday, some of the targeted victims joined forces with some local officials to get the word out about this prolific scam which is happening in many areas.
Burbank Police Chief called the crime “preventable,” because “utility providers do not call people.” Before a utility service is shut off for non-payment, the customer receives several written notices. However, the scammers are very skillful at catching people off guard. The crooks try to convince the victims “their power is about to be turned off unless they make an immediate payment of sometimes thousands of dollars, ” according to a news release. Scammers demand victims pay up by wiring funds or with some sort of pre-paid debit card. Also, the would-be thieves reportedly will often use “spoofing technology” to make the caller ID appear as if it’s coming from the utility’s phone number.
Former Burbank city councilman, Gary Bric, got called by the scammers not once, but twice! The first time, about a year ago, the phony utility employee called him on a busy Friday afternoon at his restaurant, Gary Bric’s Ramp. The ex-Burbank mayor says he “grabbed a check and went down to water and power” to see what was happening with his account. Bric discovered his account was up to date and there was no overdue bill. He says the the scammers tried again six months later. They got no money, and Bric reported the incidents to police.
The scammers can get desperate and nasty. Alan Arzoian, owner of Handy Market on West Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, is another targeted victim. Arzoian had a run-in with a utility scammer three months ago. Arzoian managed to hold onto his money, but the caller reportedly did threaten him and his business.
If you have been a target of the utility scam, authorities want you to come forward. “If you are a victim don’t be embarrassed,” LaChasse says. Residents and business owners in all three cities are urged to stay on the alert for this scam and similar ones, which will most likely be circulating during the holiday season.