Last Friday, while I was in the middle of working with a client at their office, I received a voicemail that set off some alarm bells when I read the transcript. I had received a call from someone claiming to be from the local Sheriff’s department wanting to discuss an important matter. I’ve worked with law enforcement in the past as a consultant on various technical items, so I figured someone had provided my name to this Sargeant as a technology expert. Nope, that was not what he was calling about. This was regarding a “failure to appear” in court on a traffic ticket and a warrant for my arrest.
Talk about “record scratch” moments!
Prior to talking to this person, I had my office call back on the voicemail to verify the number rang through to an actual person. It did, so I called him back. He sounded legitimate, down to the faint southern accent, generous application of law enforcement terminology in our conversation, and the fact that I did have an old fixit ticket that I did resolve – I hadn’t updated my license with my new address after we moved – but was never able to close the loop on, as the ticket was never logged into the county’s online system. (It still isn’t, I just checked again, over a year after it was issued!) He had me sweating for a few minutes, until he brought up the matter of settling this over the phone by paying for a bail bond, which could be done using an app on my phone, as long as either were linked to my bank account. RED ALERT!!! I asked him to verify his identity and badge number, and he also offered to prove he was who he said he was by calling me from their “official” line. He did, and the caller ID displayed a number that, when searched up on Google, showed it was indeed the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s department he claimed to be from. What he didn’t know was that I know scammers can spoof any number they like, including the Sheriff’s department. Perhaps sensing that he was losing me (a sign of an expert conman) he pulled out all the stops: wanting to know if I was ready to resolve this now or come on down to the Sheriff’s station to turn myself in. When I played dumb and said my GooglePay wasn’t set up with my bank account, he offered to walk me through it.
All throughout this, I was texting with my office to have them actually call the Sheriff’s office to verify this man was who he said he was. While I was verbally fencing with the “Sargeant”, they confirmed my suspicions that this was indeed a known scam, and the person on the phone was not in any way affiliated with the Sheriff’s department. I promptly hung up on the scammer and put in a call to one of our clients who also happens to be one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the county and a former DA. He also confirmed that local law enforcement would not be calling people to post bail via phone, and more importantly, there were no outstanding warrants for my arrest.
Here are the things that set off warning bells on this call, and may provide you with help in identifying similar scams when they inevitably call your cell:
- The scammer absolutely did not want me to hang up with him once he had me on the phone. He went to far as to throw around some official-sounding terminology – “Mandatory Contact Order” that required he stay on the phone with me to make sure this matter got resolved. Ostensibly this is so that I can’t call for help or advice (like I did anyways, via text), and to keep the intimidation factor active.
- Scammers will always want you to use your bank account, or to have you pay via a method that can’t be reversed, like gift cards or money orders. Credit cards are easily charged back, and often have blocks in place that make them non-starters for scams like this. No legitimate law enforcement agency is going to allow you to post bail on any matter via phone – how do they know the person they are talking to is actually the person named in the warrant?
- Don’t accept a call-back by the scammer from a different number as verification of their identity. Spoofing any number is trivial for them. They can pretend to call from any number that can be found on Google. Hang up and call the organization they are supposedly from on a new call, or have someone next to you do it for you.
- Don’t just assume because the person calling doesn’t have a foreign accent that it makes them more credible. I’ve heard from numerous clients about scam calls from people who were clearly native English speakers with a Western (or no) accent.
- Scammers will often use scare tactics to pressure you into a hasty decision – whether it’s being arrested, or that your name showed up on an FBI watch list for child pornography, or you have unpaid taxes and fines that will be levied against your paycheck. The claims will be hard to verify – more so because the scammer will be doing their best to keep you on the phone talking and not independently verifying whether what they are saying is true. They will often be counting on you wanting to avoid possible embarrassment or exposure so as to isolate you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone you trust!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net