PG&E imposters use Zelle to steal thousands from Bay Area Wells Fargo customer

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Friday, August 26, 2022
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For years PG&E imposters have told victims that their electric bill is overdue, their power will be shut off. Now scammers have updated their tech.

DANVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- The instant payment app Zelle is surging in popularity -- consumers sent $460 billion through the app in 2021 alone.

However, scammers got a big chunk of that money -- Zelle's parent company estimates about $440 million went to fraudsters. And consumer advocates say it's likely much more.

Among the scams: imposters posing as PG&E bill collectors. They just took thousands of dollars from a single dad in Danville.

This is an old scam, with a new weapon: Zelle.

RELATED: Zelle scam: Bank impostor taunts San Jose woman after stealing $3,500 using her name

For years PG&E imposters have been calling victims claiming their electric bill is overdue, and their power is about to be shut off. They used to make victims pay with gift cards. Now, scammers get money faster -- with Zelle.

Randy Felkner was starting his workday when the call came in.

"'Are you Randy Felkner and do you live at this location?'" Felkner said. "I said yes."

The caller said he was from PG&E and that Felkner's automatic bill payments didn't go through.

"'You have not paid your bill in the past two or three months. And we are in the process of shutting down your electricity.'" Felkner recalled. "And I said, 'Oh, no, you can't do that. I have my son at home.'"

Felkner's teenage son is home during the day in summer.

He followed the man's directions.

VIDEO: Calif. woman loses over $18K through 'Zelle' after scammers text, call her pretending to be bank

"And he said, 'You know, just go on Zelle.' And I'm like, 'Well, I've never used this before, but I saw that it was a feature on my Wells Fargo account.'"

He sent $987 to an account called "P-G-E," which seemed like it really went to PG&E.

But the man told Felkner the money didn't get there. He had to type a special code.

"Oh, my God, it took more money out of my account...," Felkner said.

The man said Felkner could use Zelle to reverse the extra payment. Instead, more money left his account.

"It was then I woke up... I said, 'I know you're lying,'" Felkner said.

The man hung up.

RELATED: Got scammed? You can no longer deduct it on your taxes

$2,500 was gone, straight to the scammers.

Felkner filed a claim with Wells Fargo, and a report with Danville police. An officer said it looked hopeless.

"He said that if I got my money back from Wells Fargo, that I would be the first person in history, who had filed a fraud claim with them and got their money back," Felkner said.

Wells Fargo did reject Felkner's claim, saying he authorized the payment.

But 7 On Your Side told Wells Fargo that Felkner was tricked into sending the money and by law we believe he should be reimbursed.

And soon after, the bank called Felkner.

VIDEO: Victim of the Bank of America, Zelle scam? Here are your rights

He thought it was another scam.

"And she's like, 'I just wanted to say congratulations, your money is back in your account.' I was like, are you serious? She said yes," he said.

"For us it's big. Very, very surprised, very very happy," Felkner said.

Zelle does not offer the same fraud protections as credit and debit cards. However, bank regulators say if you are tricked by fraud into sending money, federal Regulation E should protect you. If it happens to you let 7 On Your Side know about it.

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

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.

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