AREAWIDE — Authorities Wednesday warned Los Angeles residents about criminals who have been calling people and falsely telling them they must pay their utility bills with a prepaid cash card or face immediate service termination.

The phony calls have been increasing in frequency in the past few months, according to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Water and Power.

"The scam involves imposters posing as utility personnel, contacting customers by telephone, and informing them they are behind in payment of their bill," the LAPD said.

Scammers threaten immediate service termination unless the customer buys a prepaid cash card and then calls a telephone number staffed by criminals who receive card information to "pay" the fictional utility bill, according to the LAPD.

"The LADWP offers customers numerous options to pay their bills," police said. "Customers who choose to pay by phone may only do so through the voice-automated payment system.

LADWP workers cannot accept payment over the phone, nor do they contact customers and ask for verbal payment, police said. Also, a customer would have received "numerous" previous contacts by the LADWP in advance of a service shut-off, police said.

For information, call 800-DIAL-DWP. Those who believe they may be victims of a crime can call 800-222-TIPS, according to police.

- City News Service