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Scammers posing as law enforcement in solicitation calls

by Caitlan Butler | June 22, 2021 at 10:23 p.m.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office is warning local residents of a new scam wherein fraudsters are posing as law enforcement officers to try to trick targets into sending them money.

“The one example we know of is pretty intense,” said UCSO Chief Investigator Capt. Jeff Stinson. “That made us concerned enough that we said ‘yeah, we should probably get the word out about it.’”

Stinson said a local man reported receiving a call that appeared to be from a police lieutenant. The man’s caller ID showed the officer’s number and the caller identified themselves as such before demanding money, saying that the victim was wanted by police.

Luckily, Stinson said, the target didn’t fall for the scam, and instead hung up on the scammer. When he called the number that had appeared on his caller ID back, it took him to the real officer.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are pretty savvy when it comes to recognizing when people are scamming them, but these days there’s apps and other methods by which you can make your phone number appear as whatever you want,” Stinson said. “If someone calls you like that, unsolicited, it’s a scam.”

He noted that scammers will also sometimes pose as representatives of utility companies or the IRS.

Stinson said that should anyone else receive a similar call, they should hang up the phone, look up the number of the entity that supposedly called them in a phone book or online and then call it themselves. He emphasized that potential scam victims should look up the phone number for themselves, rather than relying on any information shared with them by whoever called them.

Victims should respond the same way to phishing scams, where a potential victim is sent an email or a text message from an unfamiliar source or unsolicited from someone they know asking them to click a link, he said.

“Those things seem to pop up from time to time, where you’ll either get a text or an email to click on this link and go here or there, and then you’ve given them access to your financial information,” he said. “I wouldn’t click on anything you didn’t ask for without verifying it first.”

Stinson said that with current technology, tracking down scammers is nearly impossible for local law enforcement agencies such as the UCSO. Without having to rely on physical phone lines that signals can be traced through, he said, scammers are able to make phone signals and internet activity appear to come from somewhere other than where it actually took place.

“The unfortunate thing is that the same thing that gives them the ability to mask who they really are makes it hard to track back to where they are. A lot of these phone scams, whether it be the one we’ve been discussing or any others where people are trying to get financial information or actual proceeds from somebody, a lot of times those are people out of state, or even out of the country,” he said.

He said that if a call seems suspicious, one should hang up sooner rather than later, as the longer a scammer can keep someone on the phone the more likely they are to be successful in their con.

“There’s something ingrained in us to be polite, but when it comes to the environment we live in now … sometimes it’s best to just hang up and not give them the opportunity to do that, to talk you into something,” Stinson said. “Most of the time, they’re good at what they do, and the longer they can keep you on the phone, the better their odds of success. They keep you on your heels and make you sometimes doubt your own suspicious inklings the longer they keep you on.”

Stinson emphasized that no law enforcement agency will ever ask a person to share their financial information or for a payment over the phone. One would instead receive official correspondence on a letterhead. If a person is wanted by police, officers will either call the person and tell them to turn themselves in, or find them in person to arrest them; they won’t call and ask for money.

“The most important thing is for everybody to be cautious, to just stop and slow down and don’t let anybody that calls you or sends you an email to speed up your thought process,” he said. “Use that reasoning ability and if nothing else, if you want to find out the veracity of something — the accuracy, the legitimacy of something — get off the phone and call the source.”

For more information about how to protect oneself from scams, visit fbi.gov/scams-and-safety. To report a scam to the UCSO, call their office at 870-864-1970.

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