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PG&E reports a 79.63% increase in scam reports in San Benito County

PG&E says it has received 97 reports of scams by its customers in San Benito County between January and October.

PG&E told BenitoLink it has received 97 reports of scams by its customers in San Benito County between January and October. PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado said in 2021, the company received 54 scam reports.

“As the number of scams targeting utility customers continue at an alarming rate, PG&E is urging customers to be vigilant this holiday season to avoid falling victim to scammers,” a news release said. “Scammers are taking advantage of the holiday season to defraud consumers in increasingly sophisticated schemes. While prevalent year-round, financial scams pick up during the holiday season when busy customers might be off their guard and become easy victims for scammers pretending to be PG&E employees.”

According to Tostado, 16 of its 54 reported cases in 2021 were in December. She said scammers tend to target primarily two groups in the communities.

“Scammers strategically target families whose preferred language is not English and in most cases, it’s Spanish-speaking families who are low-income,” Tostado said. “They also go after the elderly because they are perceived as having more money, being trusting and not always computer savvy.”

According to the release, PG&E has received over 23,000 reports from customers in 2022 who were targeted by scammers impersonating the company, and customers have lost nearly $1.3 million in fraudulent payments.

“This number marks a dramatic increase when compared to 2021, when there were just over 11,000 reports for the entire year,” the release said.

It added the areas where customers report the most scam attempts in the Central Coast are Salinas, Santa Cruz and Watsonville. The release also states the numbers do not capture the full extent of overall scam attempts, as many go unreported.

“Avoiding a scam is as simple as hanging up the phone. If you ever receive a call threatening disconnection if you do not make immediate payment, simply hang up and either call PG&E to confirm your account details or log onto your account on PGE.com. Remember, PG&E will never ask for you for your financial information over the phone or via email, nor will we request payment via pre-paid debit cards or other payment services like Zelle,” said Aaron Johnson, PG&E Bay Area regional vice president.

The release said PG&E will never send a single notification to a customer within one hour of a service interruption, ask customers to make payments with a pre-paid debit card, gift card, any form of cryptocurrency, or third-party digital payment mobile applications. It adds that customers with delinquent accounts receive an advance disconnection notification, typically by mail and included with their regular monthly bill.

“Utilities will continue to unite to combat scammers by spreading awareness and by working with telecom partners to remove access to phone lines for reported scammers. We encourage policymakers to adopt stronger public protections and encourage private citizens and small businesses to stay vigilant against scams,” said UUAS Chair Bud Ajdukovic. “Scams are on the rise, and these opportunistic criminals have used past crises such as the pandemic and natural disasters to target customers and small businesses when they are most vulnerable.”

Aside from low income and the elderly community, the release said scammers target small business owners during busy customer service hours.

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 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.
  • Scammers Impersonating Trusted Phone Numbers: Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers which appear on your phone display. If called back, the numbers do not lead back to PG&E. If a customer has doubts about the authenticity of the call, they should hangup and call PG&E at 1-833-500-SCAM. If customers ever feel that they are in physical danger, they should call 911.

PG&E said signing up for an online account at pge.com is another safeguard because customers can log in to check their balance and payment history, and sign up for recurring payments, paperless billing and alerts.

The release said customers who suspect that they have been victims of fraud, or who feel threatened during contact with a scammer, should contact local law enforcement. The Federal Trade Commission’s website is also a good source of information about how to protect personal information.

Tostado said fraud or scam victims should always report a crime to local authorities who lead these types of investigations.

“Depending on the type of crime and if sensitive information was provided to a scammer, some victims may have to reach out to their bank or credit card provider to cancel accounts or request new debit or credit cards,” Tostado said. “If more sensitive information is provided such as social security numbers, passport information or other sensitive data, customers may have to reach out to each corresponding government office to seek support.”

For more information about scams, reporting scams and support for victims visit pge.com/scams and https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.