Your phone rings and the person on the other end tells you that they’re law enforcement calling from a local police station. Caller ID makes it look legit. They tell you to send money for an unpaid fine.
If you're like most people your first impulse might be to send the money to avoid further legal action. However, that would be the wrong move because the call is almost certain to be a scam.
Law enforcement agents across the country are warning consumers because this exact scenario has become a popular scam in several states nationwide. People in South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, California, and Pennsylvania have reported falling victim to this scam in recent weeks.
What should consumers be aware of?
Many of the scammers deploy a scenario as described above: they call unsuspecting people pretending to be local law enforcement officers and tell the person on the other end of the call that they owe money for an unpaid fine.
Scammers tend to have a lot of information when they make these calls. They recite officers’ names at local precincts, they know the address of the police stations, and they know badge numbers. Sometimes they can distort caller ID to make it look as if their calls are coming from police stations.
In one case in Irvine, California, the scammers asked for as much as $600,000 to help cover charges for the investigation of a fraud case. In another case in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the scammer called a local business, claiming the business owner had used counterfeit money and was now required to pay a fine; the teenage employee who answered the phone got as far as the nearest ATM to retrieve the money the scammer was asking for to cover the fine.
Scammers also make their requests very urgent. If their victims aren’t quick to recite their credit card or bank account numbers over the phone, they threaten further legal action – or even arrest.
In some cases, the scammer will only ask for personal information, which they can then use to either steal their victim’s identity or hack into bank accounts or credit cards.
How to avoid getting scammed
The biggest thing consumers should know is that police officers will never ask for money over the phone. This was unanimous across all of the states that have experienced issues with this scam. Moreover, law enforcement officers won't solicit money from consumers – let alone over the phone.
Should you be on the receiving end of one of these scam calls, experts recommend hanging up as soon as possible. It’s also important not to reveal any personal information over the phone.
If you’re unsure if the person on the other end is actually law enforcement, the best bet is to call your local police station and confirm the details.
Law enforcement also recommends that consumers try to collect and write down as much information about the scammer as possible when on the phone with them – their name, rank, badge number, etc. Then, call your local police station and report the call as soon as possible.