WATSONVILLE—Watsonville City Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia has a warning for her fellow South County residents: beware of scammers posing as PG&E employees.
Garcia says she fell victim to a scam and was cheated out of nearly $300.
She recently received a call with a recorded message telling her that someone had been sent to her residence to shut off her power.
She pressed ‘1’ when prompted to speak with an agent, and a man identifying himself as “Jason Medrano” told her that she had to pay $298.27 immediately, or her PG&E services would be shut off.
Garcia says she asked if she could pay at a local office, and the man said it would be easier to pay over the phone.
He then told her to go to a CVS store and purchase a MoneyPak card, which that company advertises as a way to send money to anyone.
Garcia says she purchased the card, and called the man back at 408-381-6044 and gave him the card number.
“I’m angry with myself for ignoring the hints,” she says. “He said his name was Jason Medrano. Medrano is a Spanish surname. He had a slight accent, but it did not sound Spanish.”
In addition, Garcia says, the caller ID was an 800 number belonging to PG&E—anyone can use apps that mimic legitimate numbers—but the callback number was in the 408 area code.
Garcia says she reported the incident to the police, which authorities recommend doing for anyone who believes they have been the victim of a scam.
On its website regarding fraudulent activity, PG&E says that the call had all the hallmarks of a scam.
This includes telling customers their bill is past due and that power will be shut off within the hour unless payment is made immediately, and asking for payment with a gift card.
Scammers might also ask for account numbers and other personal data, or tell customers they are entitled to a PG&E refund or discount or a federal tax refund.
They could also claim to represent PG&E to sell a product or gain entrance to your home.
PG&E said that agents will never ask for financial information over the phone.
Moreover, asking for a gift card is a sure sign of a scam, says Shandra Handley, a paralegal in the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection unit.
“No legitimate business ever accepts payments through gift cards,” she said.
Handley says that unknown numbers should always be ignored.
“They’ll leave a message if it’s important,” she says.
If answered, never press a number if prompted, because that could give scammers full access to your phone, Handley says.
Another red flag was the sense of urgency the caller used to scam Garcia, Handley says.
“Scammers work on our emotions,” Handley said. “They get us worked up, they get us worried, they convince us that PG&E is going to turn off our power in 45 minutes if we don’t take action immediately.”
Anyone who receives such a call should hang up immediately and call the company back using a known number, she says.
Anyone who falls victim to a scam should change their passwords and other sensitive data, as well as call their bank and report the incident to the police. They should also call their bank and check their credit report.
In most cases, Handley says, money paid through a gift card scam is most likely gone. But reporting it is still important, because it helps authorities build evidence and see connections.
“Every one of us is susceptible because we’re human beings and there are so many scams out there,” she said. “You have to be on top of it.”Anyone who receives a suspected scam call from PG&E should hang up and call the PG&E Customer Service number at 833-500-7226. On its Consumer Advice page, the Federal Trade Commission has several pieces of advice for victims.