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.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials Sunday again warned the public of a telephone scam being carried out by county jail inmates. Here’s a previous story on the same scam.
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
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.
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).”
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.
WHITTIER — Police are cautioning the public about an Internet scam that has become increasingly common over the past two months.
The con takes advantage of people who are looking for jobs via websites such as Monster.com, Craigslist.com and others, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said in a written statement.
Victims have come across job listing claiming they can make money working from home, the officer said.
“Once you make contact with the business and show interest, they begin to contact you through the Internet only,” the officer said. “They instruct you that you have been hired and that you can work from home.”
The scammers then tell the victims to price shop for needed items, such as phones, computers and desks, and that the company will send them a check, usually for $2,000 to $2,500, to cover the cost of the supplies, White said.
“Once you have received the check, they will ask you to deposit the check into your account and ask that the funds be available immediately,” according to the statement.
Victims are then told to keep several hundred dollars to cover the cost of work expenses or for the first week’s salary, and send the rest back via a wire transfer.
“What you need to be aware of is the company you are dealing with is a fake company and the check they send you is counterfeit,” White said.
Anyone who believed that may have been targeted by this type of scam is asked to report it to the police, officials said.
LOS ANGELS — A federal judge Monday sentenced a Monterey Park man who was already on parole for identity theft to 8 years in prison in connection with another identity theft case, officials said.
Robert Delgado, 40, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. He also admitted participating in a scheme in which he and others used other people’s information to obtain credit at stores and make purchases.
When arrested on March 8, Delgado was trying to hide a computer hard drive that contained personal information for more than 300,000 people, computer images used create copies of credit cards, computer images used to create DMV documents and ID cards and scanned checks in the names of other people, Mrozek said.
“Authorities are continuing to investigate how Delgado came into possession of the 300,000 identity profiles,” he said.
Three other men involved in the fraud have also been guilty and are awaiting sentencing, officials said.
Officials learned of the fraud after a victim reported to the U.S. Post Office that his mail had been put on a vacation hold without his permission, and there were fraudulent charges on his Lowe’s store credit card, which was managed by GE Moneybank, Mrozek said.
“Delgado’s telephone records showed that he had called GE Moneybank’s automated service line, which allows callers to check their available credit, 350 times in three months, even though he did not have a Lowe’s account,” Mrozek added.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
LOS ANGELES — A West Covina woman received a 9-year prison sentence Monday for running a Ponzi scheme in which she defrauded about 150 victims out of nearly $7 million, authorities said Tuesday.
Guadalupe Valencia, 47, was sentenced by United States District Judge S. James Otero and ordered to pay $5.2 million in restitution, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
She pleaded guilty last December to two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of tax fraud.
Through offices of a Downey companies she called Real Estate & Loan Consultants and R.E. Equity Group, Inc., Valencia solicited investments from investors promising large and timely returns, Mrozek said.
“Beginning in 2001 and continuing through 2009, Valencia promoted two types of investment pools, with one purportedly funding loans to purchase real estate, and a second purporting to fund short-term loans to businesses,” Mrozek said.
“Valencia admitted that she falsely told investors that their investments were fully secured, backed by deeds of trust on valuable real estate, as well as promissory notes that equaled ‘money-back guarantees,'” he said.
“When she pleaded guilty, Valencia admitted that the investments she promoted did not generate any profits and that she used newer investor funds to pay investors,” Mrozek said. “Further, Valencia admitted that she had provided the victims with worthless promissory notes she had created.”
Valencia stole $6.9 million dollars, and paid $1.7 million of the money back to investors, officials said.
The investigation was carried out by the IRS and the FBI.
WHITTIER — Police are cautioning residents to be wary of an old scam that’s made a resurgence lately in which con artist claim to be troubled relatives in need of emergency money.
The so-called “relative scam” or “grandparent scam” appears to grow more prevalent during the holiday season, when people are more likely to be traveling, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said.
Two Whittier residents have been conned out of nearly $9,000 in this type of scam in recent months, the officer said.
In the scam, “An individual calls, either from Mexico or Canada. Once you answer the phone, the individual keeps the conversation vague until the victim (you) gives them a name of a family member,” Whittier police said in a written statement.
“Once the individual has that name, they will claim to be that person. The scammer then will tell you that they need money wired to a certain location because they have an emergency. The emergencies consist of; car accidents, auto repairs, they need bail money or they have to pay hospital bills for injuries,” the statement said.
An 82-year-old Whittier woman fell victim to the scam Aug. 31 and wired $2,800 to the crooks after she received a phone call from someone “pretending to be a relative in jail (in Mexico) and needing bail money,” White said.
A 34-year-old Whittier woman also came across the scammers on July 16, police said.
Over two days, he said, “She had wired a total of wired about $6,000 to a person in Mexico claiming to be in an accident.” The caller said the money was needed to pay for medical bills and damage to the vehicle of the other driver.
“We want to make the public aware that this scam is out there,” White said.
Similar scams have been reported throughout the region in recent months and years.
In January, two elderly West Covina resident sent about $4,800 and $9,500, respectively, though the same type of con, and an elderly Arcadia couple was duped out of about $17,000, officials said.
In October of 2009, an elderly Whittier man wired $2,8000 to scammers who convinced him his grandson had been in a car crash in Canada and needed money, according to investigators. He was about to wire more money when an alert Wal-Mart employee tipped him off to the scam.
The complex nature of the crime, and the fact that it appears to involve crooks outside the United States, investigators have said this type of scam is highly difficult to prosecute. As detectives work to gather useful information about the con artists, they advise they public to be cautious on the telephone.
Whittier police offered some tips to avoid being scammed when talking on the telephone.
“First, if you receive a call from someone pretending to be your relative, make them tell you their name. Never assume you are talking to your relative,” according to the police statement.
“Second, ask them specific questions that would make them prove they are your relative. If they can’t prove who they are, hang up. Third, if you believe you are talking to a relative and they are asking for money; double check their story before your wire the money to them. You can check by asking for their phone number to call them back. You can also call another relative to confirm their story.”