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September 26, 2022

PG&E warns of phone and email scams

CENTRAL COAST—Officials at Pacific Gas & Electric are warning the public of emerging phone and email scams where impostors demand immediate payment for a SmartMeter deposit to avoid disconnection of service.

PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado said that in recent weeks, PG&E has received dozens of reports of such scam attempts targeting utility customers that “continue at an alarming rate.”

“We want to help customers recognize the signs of scams to avoid falling victim,” Tostado said.

In this latest wave of scams, callers are contacting customers via email and phone, falsely telling them that their utility meter needs to be replaced and that immediate payment of a deposit is required to avoid disconnection.   

“PG&E does not ask for SmartMeter deposits and does not call, email, text or show up at your home threatening a service disconnection,” Tostado said.

In July, PG&E received more than 1,300 complaints from customers about scam attempts in this area. Out of the 1,300 reported attempts, 106 customers said they fell victim to scammers, paying a cumulative total of $115,789 after a SmartMeter deposit was requested or a service disconnection was threatened. The majority said they were asked to make a payment via Zelle, while others said they were asked to provide credit card information or purchase prepaid debit cards. 

By region, those scam reports amounted to: Salinas, 39, Santa Cruz, 9, Seaside, 7, Soledad, 6, Monterey, 5, Aptos, 5, and Watsonville, 4.

“Callers claiming to represent PG&E requesting payment via a prepaid debit card or payment service like Zelle should be a red flag for customers,” Tostado said.

PG&E said signs of a potential scam include:

• 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.

Customers should never purchase a prepaid card to avoid service disconnection or shut off. 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.

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.

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