As the number of scams targeting utility customers continue at an alarming rate, PG&E is joining Utilities United Against Scams to help customers recognize potential scams as part of Utility Scam Awareness Day on Nov. 16.
In fact, during 2022 PG&E has received over 23,000 reports from customers who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers have lost nearly $1.3 million in fraudulent payments. This number marks a dramatic increase when compared to 2021, when there were just over 11,000 reports for the entire year. Unfortunately, these numbers do not capture the full extent of overall scam attempts, as many go unreported.
“Avoiding a scam is as simple as hanging up the phone. If you ever receive a call threatening disconnection if you do not make immediate payment, simply hang up and either call PG&E to confirm your account details or log onto your account on PGE.com. Remember, PG&E will never ask for you 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,” said Aaron Johnson, PG&E Bay Area regional vice president.
Scammers are opportunistic and look for times when customers may be distracted or stressed, and the holiday season provides a prime opportunity for them. 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.
“Utilities will continue to unite to combat scammers by spreading awareness and by working with telecom partners to remove access to phone lines for reported scammers. We encourage policymakers to adopt stronger public protections and encourage private citizens and small businesses to stay vigilant against scams,” said UUAS Chair Bud Ajdukovic. “Scams are on the rise, and these opportunistic criminals have used past crises such as the pandemic and natural disasters to target customers and small businesses when they are most vulnerable.”
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. 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 pre-paid card then call them back supposedly to make a bill payment.
· Request for pre-paid 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 pre-paid 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 sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing and helpful alerts.
Scammers Impersonating Trusted Phone Numbers: Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers which appear on your phone display. If called back, the numbers do not lead back to PG&E. If a customer has doubts about the authenticity of the call, they should 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 a scammer, 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.
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