Authorities warn public of utility scam

San Gabriel Valley police agencies and utility providers are cautioning the public about an ongoing scam in which con artists are posing as electric or phone utility employees and demanding bogus payments.
Police in cities including West Covina and Monrovia warned the public of the scam over the past week, along with officials at Southern California Edison.
The nationwide scam targets utility customers, and in this case, primarily business owners, via telephone or email, SCI spokesman David Song said in a written statement. “In both scenarios, the scammers often request personal information and threaten to cut off electrical service if they do not receive immediate payment.”’
Edison customers have reported receiving similar letters and phone calls. In some cases, the customers are told their service will be disconnected immediately if they do not submit a payment.
A similar scam was rampant last year, targeting more than 2,000 SCE customers, Song said. “Unfortunately, more than 300 customers have fallen victim to the scam, many of them mom and pop business owners and entrepreneurs whose first language is not English,” Song said.
“The average loss for SCE business customers last year was between $800 and $1,000,” Song added. Residential customers who fell victim to the scam lost between $300 and $500 on average, and total losses to SCE customers in the scam are estimated at $225,000.
The scammers demand payments via prepaid credit cards or debit cards, officials said.
“SCE never uses high-pressure tactics to collect or demand money for past due bills,” according to SCE Manager of Consumer Affairs Marlyn Denter. “We are not in the business of threatening our customers with immediate termination of service.”
In Monrovia, police have noted the scam, with callers claiming to represent both SCE and Verizon.
“The caller tells the business their services are going shut off within 45 minutes to an hour, and a crew has already been dispatched to cut of the services unless a same-day payment is made immediately,” Monrovia police officials said in a written statement.
Some of the calls were received during weekends.
“The suspects sound seemingly legitimate and are targeting businesses, as businesses cannot afford to be without phone or power over the weekend,” the Monrovia police statement said. “It is not normal SCE or Verizon protocol to shut off service on the weekends.”
West Covina police also joined in the warning residents of the ongoing scam involving fake SCE representatives.
Those believing they have received a suspicious phone call are advised to end the call and report it to local police, as well as SCE at 800-655-4545. Suspicious emails can be reported to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at www.stopfraud.gov as well as to SCE. Officials advised customers not to click on any links or attachments, send no reply and delete the email.
Information regarding the scam is available in multiple languages on SCE’s website at www.sce.com.

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Monrovia senior citizen loses $9,500 to scammers; suspect in custody

MONROVIA — A senior lost $9,500 in a scam and another was behind bars in connection with the alleged caper Wednesday, officials said.
Buddy Young Johnson, 67, of Norwalk was booked on suspicion of grand theft by trickery and theft with prior theft convictions in connection with the incident, which unfolded Wednesday afternoon in Arcadia and Monrovia, according to Monrovia police officials and Los Angeles County booking records.
But the victim’s money, as well as a second suspect, remained unaccounted for Wednesday night, the sergeant said. No description of the outstanding con artist was available.
The incident began about 2 p.m. when the victim, Monrovia man in his late-60s, encountered a man at a 99 Cents Only Store in Arcadia, officials said.
The man told the victim he had $250,000 and wanted to travel to Africa, but was unable to send the money there himself, saying it would be confiscated. The scammer offered the victim compensation to help, but demanded the victim withdraw a significant amount of cash to prove his financial responsibility.
Johnson then approached the first suspect and victim, pretending not to know the other scammer and claiming he wanted to get in on the deal as well.
After Johnson claimed to have withdrawn $35,000 and showed it to the unidentified scammer, the initial con artist told the victim it was his turn, according to police.
The victim agreed to withdraw $9,500, which the scammers persuaded him to wrap in a rag so they could pray over it, investigators said. But at some point, the scammers switched the man’s money for another rag stuffed with newspaper.
As the victim was heading to the bank, he notified a family member of what was going on, Verna said. The family member met the victim and scammers at the bank, and managed to grab onto Johnson and hold him until police arrived.
The second suspect managed to flee with the victim’s money, Verna said. A description was not available.
Monrovia police notified other nearby law enforcement agencies of the arrest in hopes of tracking down additional victims of the alleged con artists.
According to county booking records, Johnson was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail pending his initial appearance Friday in Pasadena Superior Court.

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Pasadena grocery store targeted in bomb threat scam; incident similar to others reported nationwide

PASADENA — A caller threatened to bomb a Pasadena grocery store and unsuccessfully demanded the manager deposit money on prepaid cash cards Friday in what officials said appears to be part of a nationwide crime trend.
The incident unfolded about 2:45 p.m. at Vons, 2355 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena police Lt. Vasken Gourdikian said.
The caller demanded the store manager load money onto prepaid card accounts, saying a bomb would detonate at the store if he did not, the lieutenant said. The voice was described as male.
The manager did not comply and immediately contacted police, Gourdikian said.
“We searched the store,” he said. “Nothing unusual was found.”
Store officials indicated the threat appeared to be consistent with similar calls being received by retail stores throughout the United States in recent months, Gourdikian said.
“They do it remotely,” he said. “It’s not clear if the suspects are in the city.”
Similar threatening calls elsewhere in the country have been found to originate from overseas, internet-based numbers, according to an alert issued in September by the FBI’s Atlanta Division on the heels of more than 10 such calls in that jurisdiction.
“To date, no explosives devices gave been found anywhere in the country linked to this type of threat,” according to the September statement.
Updated information regarding the incidents nationwide was not available late Friday.
Store officials could not be reached for comment.
The callers generally demand that money be placed loaded onto a type of prepaid card called Green Dot MoneyPak cards, according to the FBI.
“Green Dot MoneyPak cards are re-loadable and available at most retail outlets throughout the country and, like money wire transfers, are just as untraceable,” the FBI statement said. “These cards are not associated with any bank, meaning that the money is in the card. Users of these Green Dot MoneyPak cards are reminded to never give anyone those numbers associated with those cards in that doing so gives them instant access to the money on those cards.”
It was not clear late Friday whether the Pasadena incident involved the same type of cards.
Anyone with information regarding the “emerging scam” was urged to contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center online at www.IC3.gov.

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IRS warns public of nationwide telephone scam

The Internal Revenue Service is warning the public about a nation-wide scam in which con artist are calling victims claiming to represent the IRS and demanding payment of purported taxes.
People throughout the nation have been targeted by the “sophisticated phone scam,” including recent immigrants, IRS officials said in a written statement.
The victims are told they owe money to the IRS, which must be promptly paid via a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer, officials said.
“If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license,” according to the IRS statement. “In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.”
The scammers recite fake names and IRS badge numbers to prospective victims, and sometimes are able to provide the last four digits of the victims social security numbers, authorities added. The crooks have also been known to “spoof” the IRS’s toll-free phone number, making it appear on caller ID as if the call is originating from the IRS.
Some victims also received bogus e-mails purporting to be from the IRS along with the phone calls.
After the initial call, some victims have received follow-up calls from con artists claiming to represent local police or the DMV.
“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country,” IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said. “Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.”
“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” Werfel said.
The IRS generally first contacts taxpayers regarding tax issues via the mail, he added.
IRS officials offered several pieces of advice to help avoid becoming a victim of the scam.
Those who believe they actually do owe taxes to the IRS can contact the agency at 800-829-1040 and speak with an IRS employee regarding any potential issues.
Those who suspect trickery and do not believe they owe any taxes are urged to report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
Taxpayers who believe they’ve been targeted by the scam are also asked to report it to the Federal Trade Commission via the “FTC Complaint Assistant” at www.ftc.gov. Victims are advised to include the phrase “IRS telephone scam” to the comments while filing a complaint.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov.

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Telephone scam continues to target SCE customers

A telephone scam in which Southern California Edison customers are being swindled by con artists posing as utility employees continues to pose a problem, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials warned Sunday.
In the scam, residential and business customers receive phone calls from crooks claiming to represent SCE, according to a written statement issued by the utility.
“Imposters have been calling SCE customers telling them they must make immediate payment on past due bills or have their electric service disconnected,” according to the statement. “The callers are also demanding that payment be made through a prepaid cash card.”
In some cases, the victims have been asked to purchase prepaid debit cards, then turn over the numbers to the scammers.
More than 800 incidents of such calls have been reported, and more than 150 customers have lost an average of $800 to $1000 to the con, officials said.
“We ask our customers to be alert to these calls that demand immediate payment and threaten service disconnection,” SCE Consumer Affairs Manager Marlyn Denter said. “Customers suspecting a fraudulent call should ask for the caller’s name, department and business phone number. If the caller refuses to provide this information, customers should terminate the call and report the incident immediately to local police or SCE at 800-655-4555.”
SCE also reminded customers that SCE employees will never ask for money in person. Never reveal credit card, ATM or calling card numbers to anyone.
“If someone calls and requests you leave your residence at a specific time for a utility-related cause, call the police. This could be a burglary attempt set up by the caller,” according to SCE’s statement.
Be suspicious of those who show up without an appointment, and always ask to see identification of anyone claiming to be an SCE representative, officials added.

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Ex-Pasadena hospital official sentenced for kickback scheme

LOS ANGELES — A former executive at Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital has been sentenced to three years in prison for orchestrating a kickback scheme that prosecutors say cost the hospital nearly $5 million.
The U.S. attorney’s office says 55-year-old David Hamedany was sentenced Tuesday in Los Angeles and ordered to pay $4.8 million in restitution. He had pleaded guilty in May to two counts of mail fraud.
Hamedany served as the hospital’s director of construction from 2006 to 2010. Beginning in
2008, prosecutors say, Hamedany orchestrated a billing and kickback scheme that resulted in the hospital paying more than $3 million to companies for work that was never done at the hospital.
Prosecutors say Hamedany also entered into inflated contracts with companies that performed services for the hospital.
- From the Associated Press
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D.A. warns of telephone banking scam

LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley warned the public Tuesday about an automated phone call scam targeting victims’ bank accounts.
“The ‘robo-calls’ play recorded messages claiming to be from major banks,” District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. “The messages state there is a problem with the banking network and ask for verification of banking account information, including credit card and debit card numbers, along with personal identification numbers (PINs).”
Cooley advised residents to be “extremely wary” of telephone calls requesting sensitive personal information.
“Legitimate banks and financial institutions do not call their customer to request personal identifying information or discuss banking network problems,” he said.
Once criminals have the personal information, they can take over victims’ bank accounts, apply for credit cards with victims’ information or withdraw money from accounts using victims’ debit card and PIN numbers, officials said.
Anyone who received such a call is advised to provide no information and to contact their bank’s customer service department via a land-line telephone, in person or via a secure Internet connection.
Anyone who believes they may have been victimized in this type of scam is asked to contact local law enforcement.
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La Habra man convicted of scamming elderly couple faces new charges

SANTA ANA — A La Habra man convicted last week of scamming an elderly couple out of $5.5 million through a phony gold investment scheme now faces new charges stemming from his time as a fugitive, authorities said.
John Arthur Walthall, 56, faces up to 130 years in prison when he’s sentenced for the gold investment scheme March 5 in federal court, U.S. Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
In the scam, he told an elderly couple he was running an investment dealing with extracting gold from abandoned gold mines, prosecutors said. He instead used the couple’s money to fund a lavish lifestyle and pay for personal expenses.
But he has new charges to contend with as well, officials said.
After failing to appear for a June 27 court hearing, Walthall became a fugitive, according to the statement. He was arrested July 26 in Mesquite, Nevada.
“A gun and a book entitled, ‘How to Be Invisible’ were found in Walthall’s possession when he was arrested,” the statement said.
As a result, he is now due to appear again in court Jan. 3 to face weapons charges.
Additionally, investigators are looking into the possibility of additional fraud charges, U.S. Attorney’s officials said.
“At the time of his arrest, Walthall was using the name Art Langford. Using the false name, Walthall obtained approximately $10,000 from an Orange County businessman and used part of that money to facilitate his escape,” according to the statement. “Investigators believe that Walthall may have defrauded others using the name Art Langford (while a fugitive).”

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Officials warn of con artists posing as fire inspectors

LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Authorities Thursday warned business owners and employees of a recent trend of con artists posing as fire inspectors.
“Businesses throughout Los Angeles County and across the state have been targeted by scam artists who wear official-looking blue shirts and pants and claim they are there to “inspect” the fire extinguishers, smoke alarms or sprinkler systems,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said in a consumer alert.
“They ask an unsuspecting employee to sign a form authorizing the inspection,” Cooley said. “Weeks or months later, a bill comes to the business’s owner for ‘work done’ or ‘services rendered.’ The bill, sometimes for an ‘annual inspection,’ appears to have been signed by the employee.
Such inspections are carried out by local fire departments, however a fee is never charged, officials said.
Before letting a person claiming to be an inspector into a business, employees and shopkeepers are advised to demand government-issued identification and a business card.
“Local fire department officials all have badges, and their uniforms will state the department for which they work,” according to the consumer alert.
Anyone who believes they may be dealing with a bogus inspector is asked to contact local law enforcement, or the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Public Affairs Section at 323-881-2411.

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