Mad River Union
ARCATA – It was a typical Wednesday night at Japhy’s Soup and Noodles Restaurant. Customers were seated and more were coming in as the staff prepared for dinner service.
Then, the phone rang, and the G Street establishment received some disturbing news – its power was going to be shut off in 30 minutes. It was imperative that the owner contact a “Mr. Joe Martin” with the “Pacific Gas & Electric Disconnection Department.” The staff, troubled by the news, wrote down the number and passed it on to restaurateur and business owner Josh Solomon.
Solomon called the number back. It didn’t take him long to figure out it was a scam.
A woman answered the phone, telling Solomon he had reached the Pacific Gas & Electric Disconnection Department. He was then transfered to someone claiming to be Joe Martin, who informed him that PG&E was going to replace the restaurant’s electric meter that evening and that his power would be shut off.
The only way to stop the shutoff, Martin explained, was for Solomon to log into his PG&E online account and pay a $500 fee. Solomon informed Martin that he didn’t have an online PG&E account.
At that point the scammer suggested that Solomon go to CVS and get a $500 gift card that he would somehow transfer to PG&E. The restaurateur could no longer keep a straight face. He started laughing and hung up.
Then he called Arcata Police and reported the scam.
Using the call-back number that was given to Solomon, the Union contacted the scammers on Friday, Dec. 20, two days after scammers called the restaurant.
On the first call, a man answered. When the Union asked for the Pacific Gas & Electric Disconnection Department, the man said that he owned a small florist shop and that the wrong number had been dialed. When the Union asked him to confirm his number, he responded with a similar number to that which was dialed, but with two digits transposed, making the Union’s call seem like an accidental mis-dialing.
The Union called back the original number, and this time a woman answered. She immediately became defensive, saying that she was operating a small, family-run florist shop and didn’t have time for pestering calls.
The Union made a third call, this time attempting to order three dozen yellow roses. The man answered. He was defensive and agitated, and demanded a halt to the phone calls. The Union requested a price quote for one-dozen yellow roses, but the faux florist refused to cooperate. A verbal argument ensued after the Union repeatedly requested the delivery of flowers and questioned what kind of florist shop doesn’t deliver flowers.
A subsequent Internet search revealed that the phone number belonged to an auto glass repair franchise in New Jersey. So the Union called back, this time inquiring about auto glass repair. The exasperated scammer said, “Please, sir. Please. Please. Do not call us. We are very busy. We do not have time for this. Please. Please.”
Hours later, after several more calls, the phone no longer rang and went straight to a message that said, “This number is temporarily unavailable.” By Friday evening, the phone number was no longer in service.
There are numerous variations of this scam taking place throughout the United States.
Among the advice posted on the PG&E website:
• PG&E’s Credit Department will not ask for personal information or a credit card number over the phone. Anyone who has received such a phone call and provided credit card or checking account information should report it immediately to the credit card company or bank and law enforcement.
• Customers with concerns about the legitimacy of a call about a past due bill, service request or request for personal information are encouraged to call PG&E at 1 (800) 743-5000.