Knowing the signs of a scam and the steps to take is key to avoid falling victim
During a time when many Californians are occupied with preparations for the holiday season, there are steps they can take to prevent their distraction from making them an easy target for scammers. While many are aware of the potential for online shopping scams, the same danger exists for utility bill scams, where scammers will demand payment to prevent immediate disconnection.
Every day across the country, electric and natural gas customers, along with telephone, water and other essential services customers, are being targeted by scammers impersonating utilities, typically online, in-person and by telephone. And, the holiday season provides scammers with a prime opportunity to take advantage of customers’ distraction and anxiety.
“Scammers are opportunistic and will exploit times when people are busier than normal and potentially stressed, and they do not take the holidays off. Stress and distraction create a window of opportunity where people are also more likely to fall victim to a scam,” said Ryan Matulka, senior manager, PG&E corporate security. “Remember, PG&E will not contact you for the first time within one hour of service disconnection, and we will NEVER request payment by a pre-paid debit card or via online payment services like Zelle. If an email, visit to your home or phone call doesn’t feel right, don’t fall for it. Delete it, shut the door or hang up and call our customer service line or visit our website to confirm your account details.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have increased calls, texts, emails, and in-person tactics and are constantly contacting utility customers asking for immediate payment to avoid service disconnection. 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 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 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 1-800-743-5000. 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 www.pge.com/scams.
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.