Residents warned against utility scam
by Glenn Moore
Jun 27, 2014 | 6504 views | 1 1 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Banta Inn general manager Jennifer Bogetti remembers the day about a month ago when she got a panicked phone call from one of her employees, who told her the utilities at the restaurant were about to be turned off.

Bogetti was told that a man who identified himself as being with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said a crew was on the way to the business at 22563 Seventh St. in Banta to shut off the utilities because of an unpaid bill.

Bogetti called him back and was told that a $1,500 payment was needed immediately through a prepaid Green Dot card to keep the power on.

“He was really pushy and adamant about me paying this,” she said. “Just the way he came across made you think, I’m not going to have any electricity.”

Bogetti called PG&E’s customer service department to check on the status of her bill and learned that the man was running a scam.

“I had no idea there were these types of scams,” Bogetti said. “I can see an elderly person getting a phone call — and they are so convincing — and then they give these idiots their money.”

She said it was the first time someone had tried to scam the Banta Inn for a utility payment, and it left her employees a little rattled.

“It finally kind of clicked after he called back two or three times,” she said.

Dave Helm, the owner of Helm’s Ale House at 1000 Central Ave., was targeted by a similar utility scam.

Helm said he received a call June 17 about a late-bill notice. The woman on the line said she was from PG&E’s billing department, and the number she called from was identified on his phone as PG&E.

Helm was told that he had failed to pay his $1,249 utility bill and a crew was on the way to turn off the utilities to the building. It would be 48 hours, the woman told him, before power could be restored — after he paid an additional fee.

When Helm asked to speak to a supervisor, he was told that none was available. The woman told him he needed to go to a 7-Eleven market or a Valero gas station to make an expedited payment to an account she gave him.

“As screwed up as billing departments are these days, and no supervisor, it did seem possible,” Helm said. “And that’s the problem: You don’t know you have been a victim for months.”

Helm said he knew his utility payment had been made on time, but still, the idea of losing power for 48 hours and losing thousands of dollars’ worth of stock was alarming.

Helm went to the PG&E office on 10th Street with a copy of his bill and canceled check, where he was told he was nearly a victim of a utility scam.

“I don’t know how many victims of this there have been, and my concern is this scam is out there and it’s pretty convincing,” Helm said. “Times are tough and money is hard to come by these days.”

Brandi Ehlers, a spokeswoman for PG&E, said she knew of several scams across the country involving utilities. Ehlers said one scam involves emails sent to residential customers and businesses, telling them of a past-due utility payment with a link to submit a payment. She said people should never click a link received in an email.

“I think customers should take a critical look at any call,” Ehlers said. “A new scam can pop up every day, but we try to educate our customers.”

Ehlers said she wanted customers to know that PG&E does not call to say they are turning off the power. Instead, the company sends several notices in the mail — from a two-week warning to a 48-hour notice — saying that a bill was past due before any action would be taken.

“A customer would know their bill is not in good standing,” she said.

Ehlers said PG&E would never ask for payment to be made with a prepaid gift card or into an account over the phone.

If customers receive a call and want to check their current bill status, Ehlers said they can call a 24-hour customer service line at 800-743-5000. She also said that any PG&E representative who approaches a customer will have photo identification and will always show it upon request.

Some scams are becoming more sophisticated, even to the point of having PG&E’s phone number appear on the caller ID, as Helm reported. Ehlers said that if people are uncomfortable or unsure whether a caller is actually from PG&E, they should hang up and dial the customer service 800 number.

Ehlers said PG&E customers can log in to the PG&E website to track their bills, energy use and costs from month to month.

She urged anyone who has been contacted by a possible scammer to call the customer service number and talk to the corporate security department, and also tell the local police.

Sgt. Steve Beukelman of Tracy Police Department said it was highly unlikely that PG&E or any other company would call to tell a customer the power would be turned off in certain amount of time unless a payment is made.

“If it sounds like a scam, it probably is,” Beukelman said

The sergeant also warned against making a payment using a money order or prepaid card in response to a telephoned demand.

Anyone who receives a phone call from someone asking for a payment or trying to scam them out of money should contact the police department at 831-6550.

• Contact Glenn Moore at gmoore@tracypress.com or 830-4252.

 

Avoid the scam

 PG&E will never ask for payment with a prepaid card.

 PG&E sends multiple notices about past-due bills.

 PG&E employees all carry photo identification when they visit a customer’s house.

 Ratepayers can see their current bills at www.myenergy.com.

 PG&E will not ask for bank information over the phone.

 Do not click links in emails demanding payment.

 If you feel uncomfortable, hang up and call PG&E at 800-743-5000.



 
Comments
(1)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
newtotracy
|
June 27, 2014
if anyone you do not know requests a "green dot card" from you...it's a pretty good sign that this is a scam. they are not traceable and it's like handing someone cash.

I pity these people if they call Dave back...but would love to be a fly on the wall for that!

My father has had similar calls from "contests" that he's won (but not entered oddly) and they will send him $500,000 if he will just get a green dot card for $5000 to cover "admin costs" and give them the card info.

run away from green dots! (if you don't know the requestor)


We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at tpnews@tracypress.com.