Phone scams abound; local businesses targeted

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RBC | “That’s the first one that actually made it seem personal, in the fact that maybe he was targeting local small businesses,” said RBC Dispatcher Kelsey Tate, referencing a recent phone scam that affected business owners in Meeker.

“Good people who work hard to make a living, and he’s trying to scam them out of their money,” said Tate, providing a timeline of the scam perpetrated by an individual using the name “Jonathan.”

Though these types of grifts have become common in the U.S., Tate said this scammer put in effort to target locals specifically, first reaching out to the dispatch center in an attempt to gather names and personal information of local law enforcement officers. Recognizing the unusual nature of the request, Tate asked the caller why he needed the information, to which he responded “for a book report.”

The caller also claimed to live in Meeker, but became agitated and ultimately hung up when asked to verify his address. Though he failed at gleaning information from local dispatchers, “Jonathan” still went ahead with the scam, targeting potential victims over the next few days.

“A local business owner called, rather upset, saying ‘I just got a phone call from an Officer Thomas, saying I missed jury duty and that there’s a warrant out for my arrest. Is this accurate?’” said Tate, reciting the first of multiple scam-related inquiries she received last week.

According to Tate, “Officer Thomas” informed residents they would need to “pre-pay their bail,” or risk arrest and jail time. “There is no such thing as pre-paid bail,” said Tate, adding that it would be highly unusual for an officer to inform someone of a warrant via phone call. Additionally, there is no “officer Thomas” on duty with either the Sheriff’s Office or Meeker Police Department.

Tate said she understands that not everyone is aware of which officers are on-duty, or how arrest warrants work, but even residents who do may still be vulnerable to scams.

What’s more important than preparing for any particular scam, is to recognize the common patterns and tactics used by scammers.

SENSE OF URGENCY

Scammers don’t want you thinking too hard about the claims they’re making, so they will often create a sense of urgency. They might claim someone you know is in the hospital or locked in jail, that you’re in legal trouble and could be arrested, or that you’ll face some financial penalty unless you can meet their demand right now. The demand could include payment, disclosure of confidential information, or something else. If someone insists you pay or do something right away, that is a big red flag. Even if you’re convinced someone you know needs money, or that you’ve been selected as the winner of a big prize, etc, there is no reason to pay over the phone right that second, or at all. You can always hang up and seek more information, or get a second opinion before rushing into anything.

TRUSTED CONTACTS

Scammers typically seek to gain your trust by posing as a friend or family member, government employee, law enforcement official or otherwise. It is important to keep in mind that any internet-savvy person can find personal information online, and may know the names of your close family members, friends, past employers, etc. If you have any reason to doubt the person on the other end of the line is not who they say they are, hang up and call that person/business/official directly on a number you know belongs to them. As an example, RBC Dispatcher Kelsey Tate said if someone calls you claiming to be an officer or employee of a local law enforcement agency, you don’t have to take them at their word. Instead you can hang up and call that agency yourself. If the original call was legitimate they will be able to tell you.

UNUSUAL PAYMENT METHODS

Scammers often call victims attempting to secure some form of untraceable payment, such as a prepaid debit card. They might also ask for cash via mail or wire transfer. “Never, never do a prepaid card,” said Tate.

Awareness of these tactics can go a long way in protecting yourself against scams, but they’re not an excuse to let your guard down. Remember, if someone is requesting payment, making it urgent/rushing you to make a decision, refusing to verify their identity or just acting strange in general, you might be better off to just hang up the phone.

If you’re ever unsure about who is calling you, it is better to risk accidentally hanging up on a friend than to have your identity stolen, or to be robbed of hard-earned money.

You can find a lot more information about recognizing and avoiding phone scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0208-phone-scams#howtorecognize


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com

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