FRESNO, Calif. -- PG&E is warning customers about an increase in scammers this summer.
Callers pretending to work for the power company are demanding payment.
The swindlers fooled thousands of people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars last year.
"(They target during) the dead of summer and the dead of winter because nobody wants their utilities turned off. And you are so afraid that it's going to happen that you would do anything to prevent it from happening," says Clayton Alexander with the Better Business Bureau.
Now the scammers are changing their tactics, specifically targeting small business owners, people who don't speak English as their first language and the elderly.
But there are a few red flags that you should always look out for.
In the most recent scam, the scammers make you believe you owe money to your utility company, but take it for themselves instead.
Customers receive a phone call that their smart reader, the equipment used to measure usage inside the home, needs to be replaced.
"And that if they don't pay a deposit to replace, they face immediate service disconnection. This is not true. PG&E will never call to ask for a smart reader deposit," says Mayra Tostado with PG&E.
PG&E says their employees will never call and ask for direct payment over the phone.
"If someone else is calling and saying, 'Hey you paid too much on your last bill, there is a rebate or we have to give you back some money', that is also a red flag," adds Tostado.
Another warning sign to look for - if you are being asked to pay in gift cards or through platforms like Venmo, Cashapp or Zelle.
"Now sometimes when you receive a call, it looks like it's coming from PG&E because the number is identical. Don't fall for it. If something doesn't feel right, if someone is threatening or demanding money from you, hang up the phone and give us a call directly so we can figure out what is going on," says Tostado.
PG&E says scams are up this year. In 2021 alone, there were over 11,000 reports of more than $600,000 collectively stolen.
"We believe that number is just the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people feel embarrassed," says Tostado.
The Better Business Bureau says if you do get scammed, you should report it to help others avoid falling victim too.
On BBB.org, reports can be made through the scam tracker. A map shows that the greater Fresno area has recently seen hundreds of different types of scams.
The number to report scams to PG&E is 1-833-500-SCAM.