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Around Town: Palo Alto Utilities cautions customers about phone scams

Callers claim to work for department, demand payment for overdue bill

City of Palo Alto utilities workers respond to a gas leak on Dec. 28, 2017. Photo by Veronica Weber.

In the latest Around Town column, news about a phone scam that demands Palo Alto Utilities customers pay a purportedly overdue bill and former Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler, who's no longer running for governor.

DON'T FALL FOR IT ... If you find yourself picking up a call from someone who says they work for Palo Alto Utilities and claims your bill is overdue, think twice. Chances are you've been hit by a scammer who will persuade you to pay now through a wire transfer or money transfer service. If not, you risk losing your utilities services.

The request can come off as legitimate even before you answer, as these scammers can make the Utilities Customer Call Center phone number display on the recipient's caller ID, according to Utilities Comunications Manager Catherine Elvert. In some cases, the phone number can appear to be the business line of a city employee. That was the case for one city electrician during a recent wave of the scam. "This poor electrician started receiving hundreds of phone calls from people either angry that they were feeling like they were being scammed or concerned that the call was legitimate," Elvert said. "It's inconvenient and it's annoying."

It's likely the scammers are overseas making hundreds or thousands of scam calls in a day. While Palo Alto Utilities hasn't heard of many people following through with the scammers' request, it has happened and the amount of losses have varied. The department only notifies customers of an overdue bill in writing and other means of communication.

Anyone who finds themselves faced with a potential scammer is asked to immediately report the call to the Utilities Customer Call Center at 650-329-2161. For more information, visit cityofpaloalto.org.

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OUT OF THE RUNNING ... After contemplating a run for California governor earlier this year, former Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler has opted not to join the field of candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, should he be recalled in the Sept. 14 election.

Former Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler, who planned to run for state governor if Gov. Gavin Newsom is recalled this fall, is not on the list of recall candidates released this week. Courtesy Mickie Winkler.

Winkler, who served on the Menlo Park City Council between 2002 and 2006, has been a longtime critic of public sector unions. She told this publication in May that she supports education reform to eliminate teacher tenure and revising laws that create "red tape" and hinder housing construction — most notably the California Environmental Quality Act.

Her name, however, did not appear on the list of 41 candidates that Secretary of State Shirley Weber released earlier this week. This means that there will be no candidates from the Midpeninsula. The 41-person roster is dominated by Republicans, including businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former Olympic decathlete and self-styled entrepreneur Caitlyn Jenner. It also names nine Democrats, including Fairfax business owner Holly Baade, actor and screenwriter Patrick Kilpatrick and Jacqueline McGowan, a cannabis policy adviser from Napa County. Several candidates have no party preference, including Angelyne, Los Angeles' billboard star, whose platform includes, among other things, an annual masquerade ball for people to dress up like a governor ("And when Angelyne's the governor you can all dress up like Angelyne!" her campaign website proclaims).

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Around Town: Palo Alto Utilities cautions customers about phone scams

Callers claim to work for department, demand payment for overdue bill

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Jul 24, 2021, 9:59 am

In the latest Around Town column, news about a phone scam that demands Palo Alto Utilities customers pay a purportedly overdue bill and former Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler, who's no longer running for governor.

DON'T FALL FOR IT ... If you find yourself picking up a call from someone who says they work for Palo Alto Utilities and claims your bill is overdue, think twice. Chances are you've been hit by a scammer who will persuade you to pay now through a wire transfer or money transfer service. If not, you risk losing your utilities services.

The request can come off as legitimate even before you answer, as these scammers can make the Utilities Customer Call Center phone number display on the recipient's caller ID, according to Utilities Comunications Manager Catherine Elvert. In some cases, the phone number can appear to be the business line of a city employee. That was the case for one city electrician during a recent wave of the scam. "This poor electrician started receiving hundreds of phone calls from people either angry that they were feeling like they were being scammed or concerned that the call was legitimate," Elvert said. "It's inconvenient and it's annoying."

It's likely the scammers are overseas making hundreds or thousands of scam calls in a day. While Palo Alto Utilities hasn't heard of many people following through with the scammers' request, it has happened and the amount of losses have varied. The department only notifies customers of an overdue bill in writing and other means of communication.

Anyone who finds themselves faced with a potential scammer is asked to immediately report the call to the Utilities Customer Call Center at 650-329-2161. For more information, visit cityofpaloalto.org.

OUT OF THE RUNNING ... After contemplating a run for California governor earlier this year, former Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler has opted not to join the field of candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, should he be recalled in the Sept. 14 election.

Winkler, who served on the Menlo Park City Council between 2002 and 2006, has been a longtime critic of public sector unions. She told this publication in May that she supports education reform to eliminate teacher tenure and revising laws that create "red tape" and hinder housing construction — most notably the California Environmental Quality Act.

Her name, however, did not appear on the list of 41 candidates that Secretary of State Shirley Weber released earlier this week. This means that there will be no candidates from the Midpeninsula. The 41-person roster is dominated by Republicans, including businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former Olympic decathlete and self-styled entrepreneur Caitlyn Jenner. It also names nine Democrats, including Fairfax business owner Holly Baade, actor and screenwriter Patrick Kilpatrick and Jacqueline McGowan, a cannabis policy adviser from Napa County. Several candidates have no party preference, including Angelyne, Los Angeles' billboard star, whose platform includes, among other things, an annual masquerade ball for people to dress up like a governor ("And when Angelyne's the governor you can all dress up like Angelyne!" her campaign website proclaims).

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