SAN FRANCISCO – As many people in the Bay Area continued to work from home, residents were being warned of sophisticated scams that threatened to shut-off people’s power if payments weren’t immediately made.
The scammers used elaborate tactics, including disguising their own telephone number to show “PGE” or “Pacific Gas & Electric” on the victim’s caller ID, making the call more believable and likely to be picked up. Also, they’ve managed to have the call come from a number with the same area code and pre-fix often associated with PG&E corporate numbers.
Residents were being warned of scammers using elaborate tactics, including disguising their own number to show “PGE” or “Pacific Gas & Electric” on their victims’ caller ID.
Once they’ve reached someone on the other line, the scammer explained they have not received months of payments and that the customer’s power will be shut off in the next 30-45 minutes, as they attempt to extract personal and financial information.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PG&E had stopped disconnection of service due to non-payment.
And on Tuesday, the company updated its policy and said, “PG&E will be suspending disconnections for nonpayment for all residential and small business customers and will remain in effect until further notice.”
The utility company also reminded customers that PG&E will never ask for personal information or a credit card number over the phone.
If a customer has been scammed into sharing credit card or other personal information, PG&E advised you immediately contact your credit card company, bank or other financial institutions, as well as police.
Other scam tactics to look out for included notifying residents that they’re eligible for a federal tax refund related to their utility bill, attempting to sell services related to solar evaluation, and claiming to represent a PG&E initiative to sell a product, in order to gain access to a customer’s home.
The utility company stressed that PG&E employees always carried their identification with them and were willing to present it. So customers were advised to ask for ID before allowing anyone claiming to be a PG&E representative inside their home.
These acts of fraud appeared to be on the rise as more people worked from home, as children attended school through their computers, and as there have been an overall increased dependence on utility usage by residents.
In addition, the pandemic has affected the financial stability of business owners as well as their employees, and the utility company slammed those who tried to take advantage of a time of heightened stress and concerns.
“Unfortunately, that’s the reality with scammers,” said PG&E’s James Murphy, senior director, corporate security back in March when stay-at-home orders were first being implemented and scam reports were on the rise. “It’s alarming that people are trying to capitalize on the pandemic and people’s fears.”
PG&E said customers with concerns about the legitimacy of a call regarding past due bills, service requests, or requests for personal information should contact PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.