News Details

Be Aware of Scam Utility Calls

The City of Palo Alto has been receiving reports of fraudulent phone calls from scammers posing as the City Utilities Department. The callers appear to be targeting small business and residential customers, demanding payment and threatening to turn off power. 

The scammers claim to be from the City of Palo Alto Utilities, tell people that their account is past due and demand money or else their power will be shut off. Customers are then provided a phone number to call, which has a recording of the City Utilities phone tree hotline message. If you receive a phone call like this, please note the caller’s number (if you have caller ID), and hang up!

The City does not conduct business in this way.  We never demand utilities account payment over the phone.

If you receive a scam phone call, please contact the Palo Alto Police Department at (650) 329-2413 to file a Police Report. You may also want to contact the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP or https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc to file a complaint.

How the scams typically work
The scammers call using various official-sounding credentials. For example, they may claim that  they are an employee of Palo Alto Utilities, PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric), or “The Disconnect Department”. The suspects try to convince you that your utilities bill is past due, and that your power will be shut off in several hours if you do not send money right away to address a past due balance. The suspects may tell business owners that the utilities employees are outside their business, ready to disconnect their service if payment is not made. 

The scammers then instruct the business owners to call an 844 number to provide payment information over the phone. In other situations, the scammers may request the business owners provide credit card information, cash, or other methods of payment.

How you know it is a scam
Unique to most cities in California, the City of Palo Alto provides its own utility services for residents and businesses. When a customer has not paid their bill, the City of Palo Alto Utilities Department sends out multiple written warnings prior to turning off power. 

What to do if contacted by a scammer
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the Utilities Department and asking for money or other personal information, please hang up and call the Palo Alto Utilities Customer Service Center at (650) 329-2161. As some scammers can make it look like they are calling from our number, if you see that number, please do not assume it is us. If it is a Palo Alto Utilities Department employee that actually called you, our Utilities Customer Service Representative will be able to verify the call and further assist you.

The City has notified the Police and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of this fraudulent activity and misrepresentation of the City of Palo Alto. The FTC advises each consumer/customer to also contact their agency to file a official complaint report of these fraudulent calls. 

If you receive such a call, please follow these instructions:

  • Try not to engage in conversation with the caller. Do not give out personal or financial information.
  • If possible, though, try to get a call-back phone number so the callers might be identified.
  • Contact your phone provider to have them block calls from the call-back number these scammers provide.
  • Notify the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP or https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc to file a complaint.
  • Please note that you can request informational pamphlets or booklets on preventing and reporting fraud from the FTC through their website. More information on consumer protection, telemarketing schemes, credit card fraud and identity theft is available on our City’s Police Department webpage.

You can also call us back at (650) 329-2161 if you need to talk with a Customer Service Representative.

Last Updated: Sep 19, 2017
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