By Jason King
PG&E is joining the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help customers recognize and avoid potential scams during National Consumer Protection Week from March 5-11.
Scams targeting utility customers continue to increase at an alarming rate. In fact, in 2022, PG&E received nearly 23,000 reports from customers who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers lost about $946,000 in fraudulent payments. Unfortunately, this number is likely just the tip of the iceberg for overall scam attempts, as many go unreported. The number of reports is continuing at a high level thus far in 2023, as PG&E received 4,800 reports of attempted scams in January alone, with customers paying scammers over $126,000 during the month.
“If you ever receive a call threatening disconnection if you do not make immediate payment, hang up and either call PG&E to confirm your account details or log onto your account on PGE.com," said Matt Foley, lead customer scam investigator for PG&E. "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."
Scammers are opportunistic and look for times when customers may be distracted or stressed, as has been the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, scammers have increased calls, texts, emails, and in-person tactics and are constantly contacting utility customers asking for immediate payment to avoid service disconnection. 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.
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 prepaid card and 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 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 that 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 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.
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