Police warn of scam involving fake calls from PGPD

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 3, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George County Police issued a warning over the weekend regarding instances of scam calls where the perpetrators are spoofing their phone number to make it appear as if county police are calling residents.

In a statement Saturday, Officer Alexis Grochmal said the calls would appear on the resident’s phone as originating from the county police department’s main telephone number, 804-733-2773. When answered, the person on the other side reportedly identifies themselves as a U.S. Marshal, telling them that her or she has an active warrant.

They would further say the individual could avoid arrest by paying a fine immediately by supplying gift cards.

“These calls are not from the Prince George Police Department, and we do not call anyone asking for information in this manner,” Grochmal stressed. “We urge the public not to divulge personal or financial information to unknown callers.”

With the rise of robocalls and spoofing, which is a common practice used by scammers where they cloak their identity behind a veil of a reputable individual or organization, phone scams are becoming increasingly prevalent as phone companies work to gain a step ahead of those wishing to defraud consumers.

Recently, the state courts system issued an advisory about a phone scam where someone spoofs the name of a Virginia court on the victim’s phone, claiming to be representatives of the state courts, requesting the individual’s location, or outright demanding personal information, such as social security or credit card numbers.

“Unless you have contacted the court to make a payment and requested that someone return the call, court personnel will not initiate a call with you to collect payments,” officials shared in an alert on their website. “Please be advised that Virginia courts never request credit card information or personal identifiers, such as social security numbers, by telephone,” adding that credit card payments should only be made at a court clerk’s office or through secure web portals, such as those found on the state judicial system’s website.

Just last week in Hanover, scammers seemingly targeted a number of residents, claiming to be with the county sheriff’s office, implying to unsuspecting callers there was an active warrant for their arrest for missing jury duty but, they can avoid further prosecution by providing payment.

A common practice used by scammers in this types of cons – which range from someone claiming to provide support for your computer online, a representative of the IRS seeking to collect back taxes or fines or, as seen in Prince George, an individual claiming to be a U.S. Marshal saying a victim can avoid arrest by paying them, among a myriad of others – is to have unsuspecting victims pay them in gift cards, specifically iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon cards.

Once bought, the caller likely will ask the victim to read off the gift card numbers and PIN, which immediately lets them have access to that money and, once they do, the funds and the scammers are usually gone without a trace.

The Federal Trade Commission had a message for those faced with someone who is demanding payment only in the form of gift cards – It’s a scam.

“Gift cards are like cash: if you buy a gift card and someone uses it, you probably cannot get your money back,” the agency said. “If anyone tells you to pay by gift card, or by wiring money – for any reason – that’s a sure sign of a scam. Every time.”

With the rise of these scams involving gift cards being used to complete the fraudulent transactions, some companies have begun printing warnings on the back of their cards, alerting people before they purchase them that, if someone is demanding payment in gift cards, they could potentially be victims of a scam.

The FTC says, if you have paid a scammer with a gift card, reach out to the company immediately and tell them the card was used in a scam and ask them if they can refund the funds.

“If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back,” the agency explained, which provided the contact information of card companies commonly used by scammers on their website.

Even though these phone scams have existed in some form for decades, they have seemingly increased in their reach and frequency with the advent and rise of smartphones and other technologies that allow scammers to hide their true intentions from unsuspecting victims.

The Commonwealth has become a hive for robocalls, with over 120 million calls being made each month in the state, according to the state attorney general’s office, who has been working to curb the influx of calls that can connect fraudulent callers with resident, placing them at risk.

“Robocalls are not only annoying, but they can also be potentially dangerous and could scam Virginians out of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars,” Attorney General Mark Herring said, adding that his office along with others across the country are working to make it easier to investigate and prosecute those involved in robocalls.

In 2018, website SocialCatfish.com ranked Virginia 10th in the nation with over 181,000 robocall complaints made during that year. California topped their list with nearly 750,000 complaints.

For more resources, visit the state attorney general’s office website at http://oag.state.va.us or the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Locally, those with questions or concerns about phone scams can call their local law enforcement office.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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