Phone scams on the rise

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By VICKI BROWN

vbrown@lowcountry.com

The FBI is warning Lowcountry residents to be aware of phone scammers that have recently been targeting the area by impersonating law enforcement officers with plans to steal money and identities of victims. According to officials, callers will “spoof,” or fake their phone numbers, so the calls appear to come from a local police department. They will also provide information like the names of actual law enforcement officers and badge numbers. 

These scammers will research personal information about the victim, usually from social media, to make their schemes more believable. They attempt to collect money with prepaid debit cards like GreenDot MoneyPak or gift cards to rectify whatever situation the victims are told they are in. Some of the scammers tell the victims that they have failed to report for jury duty or to a court hearing, or other offenses.  

The scammers then stay on the phone until the victim provides the prepaid debit card to satisfy the fine. These types of scams have historically targeted the elderly. But now the scammers are focusing on threatening professionals with the loss of their credentials. Using the names and badge numbers of local law enforcement officers makes the scam seem more realistic. This has forced the FBI to begin investigations in the Lowcountry.

“The best defense to these scams is knowledge and vigilance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic.  “Citizens should understand law enforcement will not demand payment of money by way of phone call or email.  Suspicious solicitations of this type should be reported to the police or IC3.GOV, a web site maintained by the FBI.  We will continue to investigate these complaints and track down the perpetrators.”

To avoid falling victim to such crimes and to help prevent further fraud of this type, Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart offers the following tips:

• Make your social media accounts private and only accept requests and messages from people you know.  Be wary of answering phone calls from unrecognizable numbers.

• Call, on another phone, the number that you were called from to confirm the legitimacy of the caller and reason for the call. Scammers will not answer the phone when you return the call.

• Know that a police department or law enforcement officer will never solicit money – particularly through gift cards – from the public.

• Never give your personal information, including banking information – to someone over the phone.

• Do not send money to people or organizations that you do not personally know and trust.

• If you receive a call that appears to be government impersonation fraud, disconnect without providing any personal information and without following the caller’s instructions.

• Contact your local police department immediately to report the fraud by calling 911.

• Submit complaints to the FBI at ic3.gov and the Federal Trade Commission, which collects fraud reports nationwide, at reportfraud.ftc.gov. • Warn family, friends, and associates about the scam, so they can be on high alert.

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