Scam Reports at an All-time High During the First Four Months of 2023
OAKLAND, Calif. — With reports of scams targeting utility customers at an all-time high, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) shares tips with customers to help recognize the signs of a potential scam.
A typical sign of a scam targeting a utility customer includes a caller claiming to be from PG&E and threatening disconnection if immediate payment is not made via a pre-paid debit card or money transfer service like Zelle. As a reminder, PG&E will never send a single notification to a customer within one hour of a service interruption, and we will never ask customers to make payments with a pre-paid debit card, gift card, any form of cryptocurrency, or third-party digital payment mobile applications.
“If you ever receive a call threatening utility disconnection if you do not make immediate payment, hang up the phone and either log into your account on PGE.com or call our customer service number to confirm your account details. Remember, PG&E will never ask for your financial information over the phone or via email, nor will we request payment via pre-paid debit cards or other payment services like Zelle. End the call, end the scam” said Matt Foley, lead customer scam investigator for PG&E.
Based on data collected so far in 2023, scammers are stepping up their efforts to defraud customers. In fact, there have been over 19,000 scam attempts reported by customers to PG&E, and customers have lost nearly $342,000 in the first four months of 2023 alone. During 2022, PG&E received nearly 23,000 reports from customers who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers lost approximately $946,000 in fraudulent payments.
Scammers can be convincing and often target those who are most vulnerable, including senior citizens and low-income communities. They also aim their scams at small business owners during busy customer service hours. Another recent emerging scam trend involves scammers targeting real estate agents via their listings, and threatening to shut off power if immediate payment is not made. However, with the right information, customers can learn to detect and report these predatory scams.
Signs of a potential scam
· Threat to disconnect: Scammers may aggressively demand immediate payment for an alleged past due bill.
· Request for immediate payment: Scammers may instruct the customer to purchase a prepaid card, then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment.
· Request for prepaid card: When the customer calls back, the caller asks the customer for the prepaid card’s number, which grants the scammer instant access to the card’s funds.
· Refund or rebate offers: Scammers may say that your utility company overbilled you and owes you a refund, or that you are entitled to a rebate, and ask you for your personal financial information.
· Scammers Impersonating Trusted Phone Numbers: Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers which appear on your phone display. The numbers don’t lead back to PG&E if called back, however, so if you have doubts, hang up and call PG&E at 1-833-500-SCAM. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.
How customers can protect themselves
Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shutoff. PG&E does not specify how customers should make a bill payment and offers a variety of ways to pay a bill, including accepting payments online, by phone, automatic bank draft, mail or in person.
If a scammer threatens immediate disconnection or shutoff of service without prior notification, customers should hang up the phone, delete the email, or shut the door. Customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification, typically by mail and included with their regular monthly bill.
Signing up for an online account at pge.com is another safeguard. Not only can customers log in to check their balance and payment history, they can also sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing and helpful alerts.
Customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during
contact with one of these scammers, should contact local law enforcement. The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is a combined natural gas and electric utility serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.