Reports of scams targeting PG&E customers have been at an “all-time high” this year, according to the utility company.
That’s likely to continue during the busy holiday season, which “provides scammers with a prime opportunity to take advantage of customers’ distraction and anxiety,” PG&E said in a news release Wednesday.
“Scammers are opportunistic and will exploit times when people are busier than normal and potentially stressed, and they do not take the holidays off,” Matt Foley, lead scam investigator for PG&E, said in the release. “Stress and distraction create a window of opportunity where people are also more likely to fall victim to a scam.”
The utility said there have been more than 37,000 reports of scams this year resulting in a loss of more than $700,000, with customers losing $816 on average.
Here are tips for how to identify scams and stay protected.
What are utility scams?
In the case of utility scams, scammers demand payment from customers to prevent utilities from being immediately disconnected, PG&E said, typically reaching people by telephone but also online or in person.
“Remember, PG&E will not contact you for the first time within one hour of service disconnection,” Foley said in the release.
Scammers can also create “fake sponsored utility payment pages” on search engines such as Google to trick customers, PG&E said.
Customers wishing to pay their utility bills online should only visit the website listed on that bill — pge.com in the case of PG&E customers.
How to spot a potential utility scam
Here are four signs of a potential scam:
Threat to disconnect your service: PG&E will never threaten to disconnect your service without a prior notification, the utility company said. That usually happens through email.
Request for immediate payment through a prepaid card: PG&E will never ask its customers to complete payments with a prepaid debit card or via online payment services such as Zelle or Venmo, Foley said in the news release. Scammers try to use this tactic to immediately get access to the card’s funds. However, PG&E never tells its customers how to complete payments. They can either make payments online, by phone, through an automatic bank draft, via mail or in person.
Refund or rebate offers: Scammers may try to fool you into thinking that you were over billed and qualify for a rebate.
Questionable phone calls: If you receive an incoming call from a 1-800 number, but have doubts about the authenticity of the caller, hang up. Scammers have found ways to make authentic looking 1-800 numbers. Instead, call the number on your phone bill or the PG&E scam line at 1-833-500-SCAM.
“We encourage customers to stop and verify any unusual utility company requests before making a payment, regardless of whether the customer is contacted via phone, internet or in person,” Monica Martinez, executive director of Utilities United Against Scams, said in the release.
The consortium of more than 150 U.S. and Canadian electric, water, and natural gas utilities raises customer awareness of scams.
How to protect yourself from utility scams
If you receive a call, email or in-person visit from someone claiming to disconnect your PG&E service, you should report incidents to pge.com/scams.
One way to protect yourself from scammers is to sign up for an online account on the PG&E website.
There, customers can stay up to date with their accounts and billing information.
PG&E encouraged customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact with a scammer, to contact local law enforcement.
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