(KPIX 5) — Scammers posing as PG&E bill collectors are targeting small businesses here in the Bay Area.

The utility says the scammers usually offer customers an ultimatum: Pay your outstanding bill immediately via a pre-paid debit card, or your electricity will be shut off.

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Ernie Cervantes recently got one of the calls. The doggie day care center owner says the caller “told me that I have just minutes to pay my bill,  otherwise the disconnect crew, that had been dispatched, was going to turn off my power.”

The number that appeared in Cervantes’s caller ID was PG&E’s phone number.  But there was one big red flag:  When Cervantes asked the caller for his account number, the caller couldn’t provide it. He merely said it was “The Grateful Dog” account.

Convinced the call was real, Cervantes went to a nearby store and bought $769 worth of Green Dot Money Pack cards and gave the callers the codes printed on the back of the cards.

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“I got flustered.  I got caught up in it,”  Cervantes told Consumerwatch.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. A few minutes later Cervantes got another call,  from someone else claiming to be with PG&E saying Cervantes owed an additional $400. That’s when Cervantes realized:  “We got scammed.”

He’s not alone. “We’ve been dealing with this for the better part of this year,”  said Jason King of PG&E.  King says in the beginning the perpetrators were primarily targeting Hispanic businesses,  but “it seems to have expanded recently.”

King says PG&E representatives never call customers over the phone to demand payments.

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In addition,  King says customers who do receive suspicious calls from someone claiming to be with PG&E can and should call the utility at 800-743-5000 to verify if PG&E is actually trying to reach them.   PG&E  also advises people who do receive calls from scammers to report the call to both the utility and their local law enforcement.