7 On Your Side consumer warning: New PSE&G scam targets customers uses Zelle

MIDDLESEX COUNTY, New Jersey (WABC) -- There's a new spin on the old utility scam, where con artists call customers and convince them that their power will be turned off immediately if they don't pay up.

Now, the scammers are using Bitcoin and Zelle to pick pockets. But you can save frustration -- and big bucks -- if you listen to 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda.

"This is terrible," said one victim, who wanted to remain anonymous. "How people are out there trying to scam business owners."

The wife and mother was called and told her business would be cut off from electricity.

"Your account reflects a disconnection order today due to nonpayment," the message says. "Press 2 to be transferred to our billing department."

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Within an hour, the 45-year-old Middlesex County businesswoman made the mistake of sending $2,000 to a conman.

"I was so concerned about not having electricity and gas and that my store," she said. "So I all I could think about is how can I pay the balance faster?"

She quickly sent $1,998 from her Chase account to the imposter via Zelle, but she immediately regretted it. So she picked up the phone and called Chase just a minute later.

"I said that I just processed please cancel this," she said. "This transaction is a scam."

The fake toll-free number that called her is out of service now, but her phone logs verify she called Chase precisely one minute after hanging up with the scammer.

"The lady saw the transaction is going, processing," she said. "He said, 'Well, let me check if I could stop it.'"

Initially, she was informed the transfer was pending and could be blocked. But then, she saw the $1,998 zip right out of her account about five minutes later.

She said Chase denied her fraud claim, reminding that "Zelle transfers cannot be recalled once authorized."

"I was like, this is not right," she said.

PSE&G Customer Contact Director Eric Martinez said the scam is happening more frequently.

"What happens is they panic," he said. "They get scared. They have to run their business. And if you're being threatened to make a payment within 30 minutes or an hour and you've got a store full of people, you're going to react."

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Martinez said the scare tactic scams continue to spike since the pandemic, despite the utility public service campaigns to watch out for red flags.

PSE&G does not even accept Zelle, money cards or wire transfers, nor do they call customers threatening an immediately shutoff.

"That's definitely a big red flag," he said.

PSE&G encourages customers with any questions to call only the number that appears or their bill or visit one of 16 service centers that have all reopened.

Officials also remind customers that shutoff notices will always come in the mail, with a variety of payment plan and assistance options.

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