Sign on SDG&E building
A view of the SDG&E building. File photo

San Diego Gas & Electric warned its customers Tuesday that a new wave of scammers is targeting them and threatening to cut off their service unless they pay their utility bills immediately with prepaid cards.

The most common tactic reported is scammers impersonating SDG&E’s billing department and asking for payment via Green Dot MoneyPak, a way of sending cash via prepaid or bank debit cards.

According to the utility, in these scams criminals typically threaten immediate power shutoffs to scare customers into making an immediate payment. Once customers purchase prepaid debit cards or make wire transfers based on the scammer’s instructions, they are asked to call another phone number to provide the card information, which allows the thieves to steal the money.

It can be especially confusing for victims, according to an SDG&E statement, as the phone number scammers use might play a recorded message and menu options that mimic SDG&E’s official customer service line, which is 1-800- 411-7343. When victims call the number provided by scammers, they might hear a recorded message that tells them they are calling SDG&E’s business line. They are given different menu options, including one to pay their bill or to report a gas leak or power outage.

Utility officials say SDG&E will never:

  • Call a customer to proactively ask for payment information during the call. 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 1-800-411-7343.
  • Request that a customer use pre-paid debit cards for payments or cryptocurrencies to pay their bill.
  • Send emails with an online payment method with a QR code.

If a customer is asked for payment over the phone, it is a scam and they should hang up immediately.

Utility officials say people should only provide financial information by telephone if the customer initiated the call. If asked to do so by a suspected scammer, they should hang up and call SDG&E directly to verify information about the account. Customers can also view their account status, including bills and payments, through SDG&E’s mobile app or via sdge.com/myaccount.

“Criminals work year-round to come up with new ways to defraud people,” according to a company statement. “SDG&E works hard to make sure customers know what to do if they are targeted. Unfortunately, scams are on the rise, especially during times of uncertainty and crises like with the pandemic.”

Victims of fraud are urged to call SDG&E immediately at 1-800-411-7343 to report it.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.