EL CERRITO, Calif. (KGO) -- An urgent warning Tuesday from PG&E -- scammers are out in force and targeting Bay Area residents. Officials say imposters claiming to be from PG&E are calling victims' homes saying their power will be shut off unless they pay cash immediately. The scam is old but the threat is new.
7 On Your Side has reported on this scam for years but now it's rearing up again, and seems stronger than ever. PG&E says thousands of Bay Area residents have already been targeted by these imposters. But if you know how they operate, you can foil the scam instead of losing your money.
It happened to Linda Kittlitz of San Francisco five years ago. "I'm Bruno from PG&E, I'm getting ready to come over and turn off your power," the caller had told her.
And to Lyn-Ellen Watson in 2019. "I had to buy Moneypak cards," she told 7 On Your Side.
Both got calls from someone claiming to be from PG&E, saying they owed money on their accounts, and if they didn't pay up quick, their power would be shut off.
Now it's happened to Gary Fong's family in El Cerrito.
An imposter called, claiming Gary owed $500 on his PG&E bill. "You get the money to us right away unless you want the power turned off within half an hour," he was told.
"I said, 'No, I have checks that cleared PG&E for the last two months. He said, 'Oh, must be an error on our part; you still have to pay us first and we'll reimburse you," Gary said.
Gary said it seemed plausible there could be a mix-up on his account. That's because PG&E had done energy conservation work on his home so he could qualify for a reduced bill.
The imposter said he agreed there might be a mistake, but PG&E would still have to shut off power until it was cleared up.
Which panicked Gary. The man also said Gary could not use a credit card, but had to pay with a $500 Moneypak cards from a Safeway store.
"I followed his directions, I call him back... 'Do you have the green card?' 'Yes, I have the green card,' 'Scrape off the back and give me the number,'" Gary recounted.
Gary sat in the Safeway parking lot, scratched off the card and gave the number to the man.
He never heard from him again.
"Basically I got scammed, and I was suckered enough..." he said.
He lost $500 -- which is bad enough.
Lyn-Ellen wound up losing $7,000!
Linda was lucky. Before she paid, a friend told her to call PG&E directly.
"For calls about a suspicious phone call or email, press three. (Beep) PG&E is aware of a new phone scam..." the PG&E outgoing message said.
So when the imposter called back, Linda was ready.
"I said, 'Bruno, I know this is a scam!'" she said.
Bruno hung up.
Now Gary wants to warn you too. "I was foolish enough, so I don't want anybody else to be," he said. "If we can help somebody, we're happy."
The 7 On Your Side team can't emphasize this enough: if someone calls claiming it's PG&E about to turn off your power, it's almost certainly a scam.
Also PG&E would never ask you to run to Safeway and buy Moneypaks. That's a scam.
And PG&E would never shut off your power with less than an hour's notice.
If you get any such call, hang up. Call PG&E directly using only the phone number on your bill.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE! 7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.