Jean Cho, the owner of Silhouette Hair Salon and Spa on 156th Avenue Southeast, reported being scammed by someone posing as Puget Sound Energy on May 17.
The man identifying as “James” told store employee Emily Sween that if the utility didn’t receive a payment within the next hour, the salon’s power would be shut off.
“He had said that they haven’t received a payment since January, which was bogus because I think they would’ve shut off power long ago if it were true,” Sween said. “But I took down all his information — his name, number, employee ID — and gave it to Jean.”
Cho, who on her way to volunteer at the Sammamish Farmers Market at the time, was notified of the situation. When she spoke with the man as to the reasoning for the charge, he told her it was for a smart meter that was installed two days prior.
“He told me it was for a smart meter. It’s for King County small businesses like hair salons, body shops and restaurants. He said that the guys came a couple of days ago and did the work but I didn’t pay and since it was delayed, they were going to have to shut it off,” she said. “I never do that. I always pay every bill on time.”
Since Cho was desperate to keep her salon open to serve her clients, she agreed to pay. The man had ordered for a payment of $400. He instructed that she needed to complete the payment by purchasing a “money pack” card from a nearby Rite Aid.
“In 30 minutes, I was scammed — just like that,” said Cho. “I’ve been in this country for 45 years and I’ve been a business owner for 35 years and I’ve never been scammed ever in my life.”
Cho reported the fraud to the Bellevue Police Department. They were unable to identify the suspect due to the type of transaction and lack of information.
Cho was not the only business owner to fall victim to the PSE scam, according to PSE’s website. Recent scams have included people going door-to-door offering to restore power for a fee or asking if power is out, phone calls using “spoofing technology” that displays PSE’s name and phone number when they call to threaten disconnection of service if immediate payment is not made with a prepaid debit or money card, and callers claiming to be from PSE leaving messages to call back an unfamiliar 1-800 or area code phone number.
PSE has posted a list of how to protect from a scam on their website at https://pse.com/accountsandservices/YourAccount/Pages/Scam-Alert.aspx.