Reducing the rate of fraud cases continues to be a focus of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office as they work to spread education about the red flags of scams.
While there is a seemingly higher call volume to the office reporting scams, the majority of these calls come from individuals who did not fall victim because they did recognize it was a scam early enough.
Unfortunately, our monthly scam roundup report for December includes major financial losses.
One incident started with a message flashing on the victim’s computer with a message reading “you have been scammed” flashing on the screen, instructing the woman to call Microsoft. A number was provided.
The man on the phone eventually convinced her $7,000 had been charged to her credit card via a phony website and the computer issue needed to be fixed.
This eventually led the victim down the path of purchasing nearly $10,000 in gift cards from different locations.
The scammer on the phone instructed the victim to not disclose to cashiers her reason for buying the cards while purchasing them, but rather, tell the cashier they are Christmas gifts if they ask.
The victim returned home with the gift cards and read the numbers on the back of the cards to the caller. The scammer on the phone gave the victim a “claim number” to appear more official.
The scammer then told the victim to contact her bank in the morning and all the money she just spent to fix the computer issue would be credited to her account and the computer issue would be solved.
The victim contacted her bank and they informed her she was the victim of a scam. Upon receipt of this report, deputies called the gift card companies and informed the victim the gift cards had been spent and had a zero balance. A customer service representative with one of the gift card stores told the deputy one of the gift cards the victim purchased during the scam process was recently used at a store in California.
On Christmas Eve, a woman sent away more than $3,000 after getting a call from a scammer claiming to be a Haywood County Sheriff’s Office sergeant.
She received a voicemail stating “this is Sergeant McEntire with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and this is in regards to a legal matter, please call me back.” The caller provided a phone number that was not the sheriff’s office’s actual number. The caller told the victim she missed a court date and needed to send cash to avoid going to jail. The caller told the victim to keep the information confidential and not tell anyone why she is withdrawing and sending money.
The woman was then instructed to withdraw $1,000 cash from her bank and then go to a grocery store and spend an additional $2,000 on prepaid money cards or “green dot” cards. The woman was instructed to mail the cards and cash to an address.
Right around Christmas, another scam occurred where a person lost $4,500. Deputies learned of this incident as a woman came to the sheriff’s office lobby asking for the investigations captain, as she had been on the phone with him for the past three hours and needed to speak to him in person. The victim said the captain had informed her over the phone she was going to be arrested because she failed to appear for a federal case. It turns out, the captain did not know this individual and deputies quickly learned this was scam call from someone pretending to be law enforcement.
The scammer told the victim they had been subpoenaed to testify as an expert witness. The victim was told she could solve this problem by paying her own bond of $2,500. The woman was then instructed to put this money on gift cards and read the card numbers to the caller. The woman was then informed she needed to buy another $2,000 in gift cards for a different warrant issued in her name for defying a judge’s order. More gift cards were purchased and gift card numbers were given to the caller.
Here’s the hook to this story- the scammer told the victim she would eventually end up using these cards to pay the bond amount due at the kiosk inside the sheriff’s office lobby. However, the victim was held on the line for hours to be sure she did not have time to legitimize the call. Also, the victim had already given the numbers on the gift cards to the caller. Lastly, there is in fact an actual kiosk in the lobby of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office for purposes related to inmate commissary and phone time purchases. However, the scammer knew the victim wouldn’t make it far enough or fast enough to realize that the ‘bond payment’ story was a lie.
Regardless of the story being told over the phone, a common denominator in these cases is the fact the victim was asked to buy gift cards or loadable money cards. The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office will never ask someone to make a payment of any sort over the phone and certainly will not ask someone to buy gift cards to amend an issue.
Also, it is important to note some of these victims are now being instructed to lie to cashiers about their large gift card purchases.
“These scam calls are wildly off base when it comes to accuracy of how these processes actually work,” said HCSO spokesperson Lindsay Regner. “However, these callers are using just enough specific information to make the story believable for some- for example, mentioning a kiosk or using a real deputy’s name. The scammers get their foot in the door, then fear and urgency set in with the victim. That’s when the downward spiral begins.”
Regner reiterates that no matter how elaborate the dress of the lie may be, one thing to remember is the office will not ask a person to pay anything over the phone.
“Hang up on them. Look up legitimate information about the alleged agency calling you if you are concerned. The scammer will try to keep you on the phone so you don’t have the focus or ability to research what is being said to you.”