LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Authorities today warned Southlanders about criminals who have been telephoning people and falsely telling them they must pay their utility bills with a pre-paid cash card or face immediate service termination.

The phony calls have been increasing in frequency in the last few months, according to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles 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 in a statement.

Scammers threaten immediate service termination unless the customer buys a pre-paid 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 personnel cannot accept payment information verbally over the phone,” police said. “LADWP personnel will not contact customers by phone and ask for verbal payment.”

Also, if service is to be terminated, there will have been “numerous” previous contacts by the LADWP “well in advance of the actual shut-off,” police said.

“It is unlikely a customer will be facing immediate service termination without prior knowledge,” police said.

Any customer with questions about being contacted by the LADWP should call (800) DIAL-DWP to confirm that the person contacting him or her is an actual employee of the utility, according to police.

Also, people suspecting they are victims of a crime can call Crime Stoppers, (800) 222-TIPS, according to police.