Powerful video: Alleged scam artist caught in action

Powerful video: Alleged scam artist caught in action »Play Video
Eyewitness News confronts a woman named "Rebecca" on Friday, March 1, 2013, at a south Bakersfield, Calif., shopping center about an alleged power bill scam.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Eyewitness News has discovered a rip-off, an empty promise of cut-rate electricity.

The hook: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers can pay a flat fee to cover their power bills for months.

A viewer called to say he had shelled out $300 in cash in January, but then he got worried hearing about his friend's experience.

"He basically paid her $500 for a whole year," the viewer said, who didn't want to be identified. "After six months, they turned off his power in his house."

The tipster said he had gotten the woman's phone number from that friend, and he had traded emails and phone calls with her.

He gave that phone number to Eyewitness News, and photographer Johnny Guillen pretended he wanted into the program and set up a meeting Friday in a grocery store parking lot in south Bakersfield.

Raw video of the confrontation:



The woman in a black sweatshirt met Guillen, and he introduced himself.

"Are you Rebecca?" he asked.

"Yes," she responded.

"With PG&E?" he continued.

"Yes," she said.

In the messages they exchanged, Guillen had been told to bring $400 cash. He held an envelope, but then let the woman know he was with Eyewitness News, and we had questions.

The woman had said her name was "Rebecca," but she refused to give a last name to us. We also asked for identification, which she admitted she didn't have.

Rebecca had told the Eyewitness News photographer it was her supervisor who set up this program for power customers on low or fixed incomes.

But, under questioning in the parking lot, she changed her story.

"Who's this supervisor? Who's running this program?" we asked.

"You don't need to know about that," she responded.

It turns out both PG&E and Bakersfield police are investigating a power bill rip-off scheme.

"I can tell you that PG&E is involved in an ongoing investigation with authorities to help uncover more about this scam," company spokeswoman Katie Allen said Friday. She couldn't' say much more.

Asked if there is any PG&E program that provides a prepaid flat fee for electricity, Allen said that's not what they do.

"Most PG&E residential customers are billed month-to-month for their usage," Allen said. "So, their bills reflect their usage on a monthly basis."

She said PG&E wants to help customers avoid scams by knowing the warning signs.

"Taking cash when it's outside of a payment center" is a big red flag, Allen said.

In this hoax, the scam artist wanted cash in a parking lot. The viewer who called Eyewitness News actually handed over cash twice.

"I couldn't give her the whole $300 up front," he explained. "So, I had to give her $250, and then $50 a week later."

Another piece of advice: Ask for identification. Allen said any PG&E employee will have a company badge. And, if a customer is still unsure about the ID, they're urged to call the company's 800 number.

Asked if this woman has any connection to PG&E, Allen said she can't comment.

"I can say that this investigation is ongoing, and we're aware of a potential scam like this in the area," Allen said. "That's why it really is important for us to educate and help our customers understand the signs of a scam."

Police told Eyewitness News this incident sounds similar to a case they've investigated for at least a month. The detective said the case has at least two suspects, and they're not sure how many victims.

He said the scam is a crime. It amounts to fraud or "theft by false pretense."

Anyone with information helpful to the investigation is urged to call police at (661) 327-7111, or Detective Joseph Galland at 326-3858.