South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. wants business and residential customers to be aware of scam artists posing as company employees.

The Cayce-based utility said Thursday numerous customers have reported instances of poeple portraying themselves as SCE&G employees over the phone and warning customers that they're late on their utility bill or that they might need a new meter.

The scammer then says a customer's service will be cut off if payment isn't made immediately, instructs the customer to purchase a prepaid debit card and to call back with the numbers on the card.

SCE&G said scammers often targets small businesses, such as restaurants, that can't afford to close, so they feel a sense of urgency to pay up. The scammer may suggest a specific local store from which the customer can purchase the prepaid card.

Scammers use the practice of caller ID "spoofing," which causes the customer's phone to display a false caller ID. Often, the scammer will "spoof" a local number, perhaps even using the utility's standard customer service number.

Scammers like prepaid debit cards because they don't have to show a photo ID to spend money on the cards. All they need is the number on the card.

"Customers should call us directly if they ever have concerns about their accounts," said Sam Dozier, vice president of customer service for SCE&G. "If you have any doubt whatsoever about the legitimacy of a caller, hang up and call our Customer Service Center at 1-800-251-7234."

SCE&G does not ask customers to purchase payment cards from local convenience or drug stores for bill payment purposes, Dozier said. Bill payments are accepted at SCE&G business offices, by mail, authorized payment agencies, online or through SCE&G's phone payment provider, BillMatrix, by calling 1-800-450-9160.

If you think you're the victim of a scam, notify your local law enforcement agency. The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs also has a phone line for reporting consumer scams: 1-800-922-1594.