Houston authorities warn of phone scam

Caller may pose as law enforcement officer or judge

bpurser@macon.comMay 8, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Kathy Spencer of Centerville was caught off guard when she received a phone call supposedly from the IRS saying she hadn’t paid her taxes and was about to be arrested.

The 62-year-old retired nurse was flabbergasted. Of course she paid her taxes, she said. But the caller from New York warned Spencer that she needed to call the case agent if she didn’t want to go to jail.

So she did.

But it wasn’t the IRS. It was a scam.

“Typically, when we see these things get started, they go on for awhile,” said Houston County sheriff’s Capt. Jon Holland, head of investigations. “We just want to get the word out, so people know what’s going on.”

Other law enforcement agencies are receiving similar reports in which the criminal identifies himself or herself as being a law enforcement officer or judge. In all cases, the criminals want the victim to load money onto a Green Dot card or send a wire transfer to avoid being arrested, authorities said.

Most victims, like Spencer, catch on before any money is paid out. But in one Houston County case, a man sent money because he was told his relative was in jail and needed him to post bond, Holland said.

When Spencer was called, the person on the other end of the telephone line posing as an IRS agent threw her off by asking if her late husband was still living when he claimed her 2011 taxes weren’t paid. Her husband died in 2011.

“I probably would have caught on a little sooner if it hadn’t been for that,” Spencer said. “I was intimidated by just the threat.”

The imposter told her she needed to contact her attorney and her attorney would have to call him within an hour, or the police would come and arrest her. She told the caller there was no way she could reach her attorney in an hour. The imposter said he’d get back to her.

She immediately called her son-in-law and then Centerville police, who assured her they had no plans to arrest her. An officer did want to come out for her to file an incident report.

A couple of days later, Spencer got another call from the same New York number. The exact same method of operation, she said. Spencer hung up and called police. While police where there, the scammers called again.

She answered the phone, “Police department.”

The caller hung up, and that was that.

But it bothered Spencer enough that she wanted to warn other people about what was going on.

Holland said the criminals making the calls are smooth operators who know how to get information from people just by talking with them and without the victim realizing personal information is being gathered. The criminals then use that information to attempt to trick the victim. They want the victim to believe they have personal knowledge to make themselves appear legitimate.

“That’s why we tell people to immediately disengage and get off the phone,” Holland said.

Centerville police Assistant Chief Garrett Cooley said people should be on guard if they receive an unsolicited call. He said never give out personal information such as a Social Security number or financial information such as a bank account or credit card number to an unsolicited caller.

The criminals often target the elderly and may even use the name of a local law enforcement officer or judge. No legitimate officer would take such actions, Holland said.

Residents should report such incidents to their local law enforcement agency. Also, they may call their phone company and have the suspicious telephone number blocked.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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