At the end of October, two Latino men in plain clothes showed up at Jose Rodriguez’ home along Seventh Street in the City of San Fernando claiming to be from the “Water Company” and wanting to install a water saving device.
Rodriguez wasn’t buying it.
“I was suspicious from the very start because they didn’t have any tools with them, a truck or uniform,” he said.
“They spoke in English and said they were from the water company and that they were going to install a water regulator. They said ‘we’re going to put it by the door entrance’,” he recounted, noting that all they had with them was a “small plastic device with some numbers on it.”
Despite his misgivings, Rodriguez opened the gate and one of the men reached the front door where he seemed to peek inside.
That’s when Rodriguez put an end to it.
“I told them, ‘I don’t make the decisions here, it’s my daughter,’ and told them to leave,” he added.
The two Latino men left. One of them wore a shirt and tie. The other stayed about 20 feet away, his face covered by a sweater. They also wore white badges on their shirts saying they were from the Department of Water and Power.
After learning about the episode, Rodriguez’ daughter, Alicia, checked with the City of San Fernando and was told there was no scheduled work in the area, and that none of their employees had been sent there. Moreover, city employees usually wear a uniform and must identify themselves as such.
She was given the same answer at Southern California Edison, the company that provides power in San Fernando.
Rodriguez seemingly dodged a bullet — or a possible scam — given that when they checked with a neighbor on the same street the men also visited, they told them they had claimed to be from the “gas company.” At another home, the men asked the occupants whether they had a computer.
“We’re scared,” Alicia said.
“I think they know where to go where to knock and try to get a glance inside the house to see whether it’s worth to come inside (and steal something). They’re trying to see if they’re able to get inside.
“A lot of these people around us are retired. We tell them to be careful and not come to the door if anybody shows up (unannounced). I told my dad, ‘If anybody comes by, let them leave a flyer or card, and call the company to make sure they are employees.’”
That seems to be good advice.
The San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) sent out a warning notice about another scam in the City having to do with fake tree trimmers, who had burglarized a home along Glenoaks Boulevard. Two men had approached the owner, and while one of them lured him to the backyard the other went inside the house and stole some valuables.
SFPD officials recommend that residents not allow strangers who claim to be service or utility workers into their homes unless they are wearing official uniforms or present the appropriate credentials.
Southern California Edison also gives the same advice.
“Occasionally, one of our employees may come to your door regarding meter reading or other service. Most, but not all, SCE employees who are likely to visit your home will be wearing uniforms. As a standard practice for your own safety, you should always ask to see his or her SCE employee identification card,” the company said in a statement.
It went on to say an authentic SCE card “shows our company name and logo, a full-color photo of the employee, and the employee’s name on the front.” On the back of the ID, it shows an address to mail the card if lost.
“Most visits by utility workers are regularly scheduled or customer-requested. We notify customers several times in writing before sending an employee to disconnect electrical service. Vendors hired by SCE may visit our customers to perform energy-efficiency improvements, but only after the customer has responded to a request from the vendor, so customers should not be surprised by a visit,” it added.
If you are suspicious, do not allow the stranger onto your property and call the San Fernando Police Department at (818) 898-1267. To report crime anonymously, call (818) 831-5002. You can also call the LAPD tip line at (800) 222-8477.
Recommendations to avoid being the victim of a scam:
◆Never reveal your credit card, ATM, or telephone calling-card numbers (or PIN numbers) to anyone. Utility employees will not ask for money, credit card information or to use your phone and do not accept payments in the field.
◆Be suspicious of anyone who arrives at your house without an appointment asking to check an appliance, wiring, or suggesting that there may be some other electrical problem inside your residence. Those appointments are usually scheduled and the person is notified days in advance.
◆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 set up by the caller.
◆Do not let anyone into your home (whether in uniform or not) unless you verify who he or she is by checking identification and asking the reason for the visit. All utility employees who go to a home or business must carry an identification badge with their color photo. Most wear uniforms and drive marked company vehicles.