Sheriff warns of fake warrant phone scam

Sheriff warns of fake warrant phone scam

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is warning Southeast Texans about a new “spoofing” scam active in the area, and said residents should be suspicious of any phone calls they might receive with “Jefferson County Courthouse” showing up as the name on the caller ID.

Caller ID spoofing allows a caller to masquerade as someone else by falsifying the number that appears on the recipient’s caller ID display; originally used by collection agencies, it was outlawed in 2010.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Rod Carroll said in an interview with The Examiner that there have been at least eight cases in the last week where residents received calls from individuals identifying themselves as police officers. Although it has escalated recently, the problem started back in January, Carroll said.

“We got alerted to an incident … of an individual calling identifying themselves as Jefferson County Fraud Department using the names Sgt. Dan Smith, Gary Adams and Chief Nelson,” he said, pointing out that these names are fictitious. The callers have used real names as well.

“They started using one of our chief deputy’s names, which is Tim Smith,” Carroll said.

The caller is targeting the elderly and advises each resident that there is an outstanding warrant for his or her arrest for failure to appear for jury duty. “I’ve never seen (a judge) issue a warrant for (missing jury duty). But, you don’t show up for jury duty, you are a bad citizen,” Carroll said, adding that if someone does have a warrant, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t call the person. “We’ll show up to your house. We may also send a letter saying a warrant has been issued for your arrest.”

The caller advises the county resident that in order to avoid arrest, they need to get a prepaid gift card in the amount of $500 or $1,000. The caller gives a phone number for the victim to call and give the card number upon purchasing it. These actors have personal information that has been acquired from an unknown source about the victim, such as date of birth and previous addresses.

“We’re not going to ask you for a gift card if you have a warrant. If someone calls asking for this, you need to not talk to these individuals and hang up,” Carroll said. “Contact your local law enforcement and a family member and let them know what’s going on.”

“Spoofing” can be performed by using an electronic device or website with Voice Over IP (VOIP), Carroll said.

With various open source software and almost any VoIP company, one can spoof calls with minimal costs and effort, an article by About Technology security expert Andy O’Donnell says.

The typical caller ID spoof works like this:

“The person (scammer) wanting to conceal their number logs into a 3rd party spoofing service provider website and submits their payment information,” O’Donnell writes.

“Once logged in to the site, the scammer provides their real phone number. They then enter the phone number of the person (victim) they are calling and provide the fake information that they want the caller ID to show as.

The spoofing service then calls the scammer back at the phone number they provided, calls the intended victim’s number, and bridges the calls together along with the spoofed caller ID information. The victim sees the fake caller ID information as they pick up the phone and are connected to the scammer.”

Carroll said he believes the spoofers are from this area. If the individuals are caught, they could face third-degree felony theft charges and charges of impersonating a peace officer, which is also a felony.

In addition, “spoofing” is a federal crime under the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, the same law that prohibits spoofing by collection agencies. This law makes it a crime to “knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” and subject violators could face a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends the following:

  • Don’t give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever – they often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to get people to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords and other identifying information.
  • If you get an inquiry from a company or government agency seeking personal information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book.
  • Let the FCC know about ID spoofers by calling (888) CALL-FCC or filing a complaint at www.fcc.gov/complaints

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office recommends calling Beaumont Crime Stoppers at (409) 833-TIPS. Tipsters may receive up to $1,000 reward for identifying the spoofers. “It’s just like anything else with technology. It is there for us to utilize it, but some people are going to use it for bad purposes,” Carroll said.

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