PG&E imposters threaten to shut off power unless you pay 'overdue' bill. How to know if it's real

CAMPBELL, Calif. (KGO) -- A warning tonight from PG&E -- imposters are out in force posing as PG&E billing agents, telling victims their power is about to be shut off unless they pay an overdue bill.

It's all a scam and it's targeted thousands of Bay Area residents -- especially during the holidays. A South Bay man lost nearly $2,000 to the imposters back in October. He came to 7 On Your Side to warn everyone -- don't fall for it.

It's ramped up during the holidays.

Imagine you're hosting a gathering and a call comes in saying, "It's PG&E, you didn't pay your bill, and your power is about to be turned off!"

Victims panic and send their money -- only it's not really going to PG&E

Douglas Gillison of Campbell was just waking on a Saturday morning when the call came in. "This fella had me convinced the trucks were on the way to my house to shut the power off," Gillison said. "The caller ID looked legitimate... it's this guy, he sounds very very convincing."

The man on the phone said his utility bill was past due -- PG&E was on the way to shut off power and it was almost too late to stop it.

"I asked the guy if I could pay with a credit card. He said, no there's not enough time... the only way to do this was with Zelle," Gillison said.

The imposters told him to use the Zelle quick-pay app so it would get there in time.

"He did a very good job of making it seem like an emergency... so I hurry out of bed and come to the computer, set it all up... and I make this payment," he said.

But the man said it went to the wrong place by mistake. Gillison had to do it over, and he could refund the first payment back to himself.

"I'm supposed to write the codes in the memo section and again I'm not very familiar with Zelle," Gillison said.

He made five transactions, not realizing the money was really going to the crooks.

"I don't know what came over me, except I had a house full of people... little kids playing with electronics, people watching TV, so I thought I'd just take care of it," he said.

PG&E says imposters have targeted thousands during the pandemic -- with most reports coming from San Jose, followed by Oakland and San Francisco -- threatening them with power shutoffs.

"The number of scams have increased, especially in the Bay Area," says Myra Toastada, a spokesperson for PG&E. "This puts people in a panic. And they will ask for immediate payment... Don't fall for it. We will never threaten you."

Even if you do owe money, PG&E says you'll get a notice in the mail with an option for a payment plan.

After several transactions, Gillison got suspicious and called PG&E directly.

"Am I OK? Am I in good standing? 'Oh yeah, absolutely, your account is fine,'" he said he was told.

A call he wished he'd made before.

"I just want to warn people. There's some really really good con men out there," Gillison said.

PG&E also would never demand payment by Zelle or other apps, or with prepaid money cards, which scammers used to demand, and still do. If someone demands payment a certain way, it's most certainly a scam. Just hang up.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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