Since September 2013, scammers posing as utility companies have targeted Palo Alto business owners. These scammers call businesses and represent themselves as being from "The Disconnect Department" of either the City of Palo Alto Utilities Department or Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). In an effort to convince business owners they are legitimately from the Utilities Department, they have used commercially available products on the Internet to display the Palo Alto Utilities Department telephone number on the business owner's caller ID system.
The suspects have been successful in convincing some business owners that their account is past due and power will be shut off in several hours if they do not make an immediate payment. The suspects instruct the business owners to go to their nearest convenience store to purchase pre-paid credit cards or GreenDot MoneyPak cards and then provide the numbers on the card to the suspect over the telephone. Once that occurs, the suspects gain immediate access to that money.
This is not a legitimate means of collection on past-due accounts. In actuality, when a customer has not paid their bill, the Utilities Department sends out multiple written warnings if an account is past due, and shutting off power is an option of last resort. If business owners or residents ever get a call where the caller claims to be from the Utilities Department and asks for money or other personal information, they should hang up and then immediately call the Customer Service Center themselves at 650-329-2161. A Utilities Department Customer Service representative will be able to assist the business owner further.
If you receive a telephone call from a scammer like this, you are urged to report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you have actually sent money to these suspects, please report it to the Palo Alto Police Department by coming to the lobby during normal business hours. An officer will take a report and ask you a few questions. Please be prepared to provide the following information to the officer taking your report:
- The telephone number displayed on your caller ID
- What did the suspect say to you?
- What was the amount you sent to the suspect?
- What was the method of payment?
- Documents showing the amount you paid to the suspect including card numbers.
- What did the suspect know about you and your business?
- What other information did the suspect obtain from you?