Customers Should Stay Vigilant to Recognize and Avoid Scams as Vulnerable, Seniors, Low-Income Families, non-English Speakers and Small Business Owners are Often Targeted
OAKLAND — With just a few days left until the 2021 tax year filing deadline on April 18, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is warning customers to protect themselves from an increase in scams involving people posing as PG&E employees.
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), tax season is a prime time for phone scams, and many scammers impersonating utility workers try to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims to file fraudulent tax returns under their names and collect their refunds. These imposters can be convincing, and often also steal money from gas and electric customers by asking for immediate payment to avoid a service disconnection.
Scammers tend to focus on those who are most vulnerable, and who may be particularly worried about potential disruption of their gas or electric service. While anyone can be a target, scammers often prey on seniors, low-income families, non-English speakers, and small business owners.
During 2021, PG&E received over 11,000 reports from customers who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers lost nearly $600,000 in fraudulent payments. Unfortunately, this number is likely just the tip of the iceberg for overall scam attempts, as many go unreported.
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 at authorized neighborhood payment center locations.
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.
As part of PG&E’s ongoing and comprehensive efforts to assist customers financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, residential service disconnections for non-payment continue to be paused. In addition, PG&E is automatically enrolling all residential and small business customers with past due balances over 60 days in new extended payment arrangements.
Signing up for an online account at www.pge.com is another safeguard. Not only can customers log in to check their balance and payment history, but they can also sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing and helpful alerts.
Beware of 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.
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 www.pge.com and www.pge.com/news.