HOUSTON -

CenterPoint Energy is warning customers about a consumer alert involving a pre-paid debit card.

CenterPoint said across the country, people are posing as electric company employees. They will call customers to tell them they are behind on their electric bills and have a short time to make a payment. The customers are told to buy a Green Dot pre-paid debit card or other type of reloadable debit card to then load with money and provide the serial number from the card to avoid having their electricity shut off.

CenterPoint said it does not send bills for electric service, but does bill customers for natural gas service. Any caller posing CenterPoint Energy employee asking for payment of an electric bill should be considered suspicious and should be reported.

"While we have not experienced this type of activity, we want to remind customers to report any suspicious activity to their local police department, file an identity theft report and contact their bank or other financial institution(s) to report an incident," said Gregory Knight, vice president of CenterPoint Energy's Call Center.

CenterPoint Energy reminds customers to protect personal and financial customer data. Company phone agents will never personally request banking or credit card information over the phone, but will instead transfer a customer to an Interactive Voice Response system to collect payment for natural gas bills.

According to the Edison Electric Institute, customers in at least 12 states and Washington D.C. have been targeted.