PORTLAND – Small-business owners in Portland are getting calls threatening to shut off their electricity if they don’t pay their past due bills.
According to the caller, the bills are past due because Portland General Electric’s system was hacked into. But as business owners are finding out, it’s all a scam.
Here’s how the scam works: On the heels of the massive Target security breach, scammers posing as PGE employees are calling Portland small businesses and claiming the PGE system was compromised and the business owners’ last payment did not go through.
The scammer then says a “service interruption” has been ordered, but if the account is paid in full, again, the business can avoid getting disconnected.
Tip Top Cleaners in Portland is the latest target. Owner Mickie McClure said she was called Monday and told she had 45 minutes to pay her PGE bill or her power would be shut off.
“The gentleman told me it would take a couple hours to get a truck here to get my power back on,” she said.
For Tip Top Cleaners, their power is everything. “If I was shut down it could compromise my computer systems and all of my equipment as well.”
So when McClure got the call from scammers posing as PGE representatives, saying their system was hacked and her last payment didn’t go through, she scrambled to get it paid. The scammer asked for nearly $500.
The problem was, she didn’t owe anything. She was the latest victim of a scam.
“This is a nationwide scam and we have been trying to communicate with our customers for well over a year now about this, said Brianne Hyder of PGE.
Hyder says it’s tough because the scammers are convincing. Often times, they know details like the approximate amount of a customer’s last payment.
The scammer who called Tip Top Cleaners was so convincing that McClure called her husband, who went to get the money.
“He went to get the cash, but then we thought nope, lets double check,” she said.
It was a good thing she did, because when McClure called PGE she was told their system was not hacked and her account was in good standing.
“A PGE person will never call and ask for payment over the phone, a live person will never ask for payment. Any payment that is made over the phone is done through an automated system,” Hyder said.
But that doesn’t stop scammers from trying. While Unit 8 was at Tip Top Cleaners, McClure got a call from another local business, saying they also got scammed.
Hyder said restaurants have also been targeted, usually threatening to shut off power during the busy dinner hour.
According to Hyder, customers who believe they have been targeted should talk to a PGE customer service representative.