Cold weather brings utilities scam

With the bitter cold temperatures, many homeowners and business owners are vulnerable to scams threatening shutoff or demanding payment for natural gas and/or electricity service.

A Willoughby-based radio station, WELW, alerted BBB to their receipt of an e-mail claiming to be from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) indicating the station owed $559.70 for gas and electricity usage.

The e-mail came from was registered by an Austrailian proxy service and created in August, 2013.

The e-mail contained a link to use in order to view your account. The link went to, which has no affiliation with any utility. The site was created in 2008 and was registered to an address in Belgium. Google has flagged this site as one that was possibly hacked.

An online source,, indicates clicking on the link can download a trojan type malware. Trojans can wreak havoc on your computer and result in minor annoyances such as changing your desktop to more serious consequences including file deletion, data theft, or spreading viruses.

PG&E, which does not even offer service in Ohio, issued a warning about the e-mail Wednesday and states it is investigating this matter with authorities.

Earlier this year, local businesses received phone calls claiming to be from local utilities. The callers demanded immediate payment or risk having electricity or gas shut off.

Cindy Sears, owner of #1 Express Carwash & Detail Center in Westlake, told BBB in February that her business received a call from William Gonzalez who claimed to be with the "shut down department" of the Illuminating Company. Gonzalez told Sears that her power would be shut off at 12:30 that day unless she made a payment immediately. He claimed her recent check to the utility was being returned because it wasn't enough to cover the amount owed. She was instructed to pay $1,850.33 using a Green Dot MoneyPak card.

Sears later confirmed with The Illuminating Company that this call did not come from them and that her account was current.

Scammers frequently try to instill a sense of panic in victims in attempts to get quick cash. They usually request payment by wire transfer, credit card, or – more recently – Green Dot Money Pak cards.

Do your research.If you receive a call claiming to be from your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.

Don't click or respond. If you receive a suspicious email, do not respond to it or click on any links. If you hover your cursor over the link, you will see the URL of website where the link will take you. Go to a site such as whois.comand research the URL to see who owns it, when it was created and where the registrant is located. Many malicious links are registered from foreign countries. You can do the same to research the URL used in the email address.


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