Scam artists have been targeting area businesses, claiming to represent PG&E in an effort to collect on past-due bills, Sebastopol police say.

In two reported cases this week, callers threatened to shut off power to the businesses unless the owners made a quick payment using pre-paid debit cards available at Safeway, Sgt. Greg DeVore said. In both cases, the callers directed the owners to a nearby Safeway and even described the location in the store where the cards were stocked.

The victims later contacted PG&E and discovered that the callers did not represent the power company. The businesses, which the department did not identify, lost $900 and $925. The prepaid cards have a $950 limit.

DeVore said he heard a report of a similar case just outside the city, though that business did not fall for the fraud. Police in other parts of the Bay Area have reported similar incidents in recent weeks, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

It's not clear where the calls originated or how the callers knew the details of the local Safeway stores, DeVore said. The callers appeared to be using software to conceal their real phone numbers on caller ID units, making it difficult to track the calls. Investigators are hoping that the company that offers the debit cards can trace the lost money.

Anyone with information, or who has been a victim of a similar scam, may contact DeVore at 829-4400.