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July 21, 2024
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Scammers stole nearly $900K from PG&E customers in 2023

103 of the victims were in Gilroy

Scammers continue to take advantage of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) customers, and Gilroy residents have been among their most common targets, according to the utility company. 

In 2023, PG&E received nearly 43,000 reports from customers who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers lost approximately $875,000 in fraudulent payments. The average customer lost $785, says a press release from PG&E. 

This includes hundreds of customers on the Central Coast, including 103 victims in Gilroy. 

PG&E has joined with the Federal Trade Commission to help customers recognize and avoid potential scams during National Consumer Protection Week, which took place March 3-9.  

Unfortunately, the numbers of victims are likely just the tip of the iceberg for overall scam attempts, as many go unreported, PG&E continued. The number of reports is continuing at a high level so far in 2024, as PG&E received over 2,500 reports of attempted scams in January alone, with customers paying scammers over $67,000 during the month. 

“Scammers will attempt to create a sense of urgency by threatening immediate disconnection of your utility services if you don’t make immediate payment. Remember, PG&E will never ask you for financial information over the phone, nor will we ask for payment via prepaid debit cards or money transfer services like Zelle,” said Matt Foley, Lead Customer Scam Investigator for PG&E. “If you receive a call like this, hang up, and then either log onto PGE.com to confirm your account details, or you can call our customer service number.”

Scammers are opportunistic and look for times when customers may be distracted or stressed and are constantly contacting utility customers asking for immediate payment to avoid service disconnection, says the press release. As a reminder, PG&E will never send a notification to a customer within one hour of a service interruption, and the company will never ask customers to make payments with a prepaid debit card, gift card, any form of cryptocurrency or third party digital payment mobile applications like Zelle or Venmo.

“Scammers can be convincing and often target those who are most vulnerable, including senior citizens and low-income communities,” adds the press release. “They also aim their scams at small business owners during busy customer service hours. However, with the right information, customers can learn to detect and report these predatory scams.”

PG&E offers the following 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.

How customers can protect themselves

Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shut off, PG&E advises. 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, according to PG&E. Customers with delinquent accounts will 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 sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing and alerts.

Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers which appear on your phone display, the press release adds. But these phone numbers don’t lead back to PG&E if called back, 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.

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.

For more information about scams, visit pge.com/scams or consumer.ftc.org.    

Staff Report
Staff Report
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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