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03/10/2011

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING PHONE SCAMS

     The Sheriff’s Office has learned of a telephone scam that has occurred in Baxter County involving an attempt to coerce a Baxter County citizen into sending “bail” money to the United Kingdom where his grandson was purported to be in custody on a drug offense.

     On Wednesday, this gentleman received a telephone call at his home.  The caller said “Grandpa”, and then the call was transferred to another person.  The man initially believed it was his grandson’s voice on the line.  The gentleman was then told that he was now speaking with a representative from the U. S. Embassy in Great Britain.  He was told that his grandson had been traveling in England after he had won a week long all expenses paid trip as a prize.  The Baxter County resident was then told that his grandson had been arrested on a drug charge, had $600 cash in his possession, but would need another $2,800 as bail money before getting to see a Judge and be released.  Specific details as to the arrest and incident were provided.

     The Baxter County resident was asked to provide this “bail” money for his grandson.  He fortunately did not provide any personal information to the caller or arrange for any money transfers at that time, and he then began trying to contact his grandson by phone.  The grandson was contacted by phone and found to be safe at his home in the United States, and was not in Great Britain.  The man was eventually able to determine that the phone call originated in Quebec, Canada, and he reported the incident to authorities there.  Canadian authorities advised him they were aware of other scams of that nature originating in their jurisdiction and were investigating them.  Since the initial call, the gentleman has received at least one (1) additional call from the same person with regards to the payment of the “bail”.

     Fortunately, this gentleman was on guard and diligent enough to verify the whereabouts of his grandson before sending money or providing personal information.  He was able to avoid becoming a victim of this scam.

     The Sheriff’s Office is putting out this information in an effort to warn and alert people in the community that this kind of “scam” is currently taking place in the area.  This is absolutely a scam.  Law enforcement agencies and government entities do not ordinarily make phone calls to relatives of persons in custody or detention, trying to collect bail money. 

     Selected people are being targeted and being told they have a family member in custody and in need of help.  We live in an age where vast amounts of personal information is readily available online.  Scammers do genealogy and family history research to target select individuals, and they can obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers of relatives, such as grandparents.  This kind of information can also be easily garnered on social networking website such as Facebook, if proper security settings are not utilized.

     People should never provide or verify any personal information by phone or email to unconfirmed persons or contacts.  This includes verifying names, addresses, phone numbers, or providing any information as to bank accounts, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or dates of birth.

     Should anyone receive a similar call, the Sheriff’s Office offers the following tips and advice before sending, wiring, or transferring any funds, or providing any personal information:

1.        Ask to speak personally and directly to your relative or friend said to be “in jail and in need of help or bail money”.

2.       If you are not absolutely certain you are speaking directly to your relative or friend, then do not acknowledge them as such or provide any information.

3.       Attempt to contact other relatives or family members who might be able to either confirm or deny the situation.

4.       Ascertain the specific jurisdiction and facility that your relative is said to be detained or in custody at.  Obtain the exact name of the agency or facility, the address, the identity of the administrator, and the telephone number.  Verify this information online or through other means.   End the call, and make a call back to the facility yourself to verify the information.

5.       If you have caller ID, and the call shows private, unknown, or an area code outside the United States, then be particularly suspicious of the call.  If the call is from a legitimate agency or facility, then the proper number should be shown.

6.       Should you believe the call to be legitimate and decide to send or transfer funds, any transfer of funds or money orders or checks you send should be made payable only to the appropriate law enforcement agency or the specific court having jurisdiction over the charges.  Never send funds that are made payable to an individual person or a private company, partnership, or corporation. 

7.       Keep and maintain all receipts, documentation, and paperwork associated with the money transfer.  If you transfer funds through systems such as money gram or western union, specify that the funds are only to be picked up and released upon presentation of a valid, government-issued photo identification. 

8.       Remember that if funds are transferred outside of the United States, you will most probably have very little or no recourse in the event of a scam or fraud, and you could potentially have no chance of recovering any lost funds.

     Citizens in the community should stay ever vigilant and maintain a healthy skepticism should they receive any telephone calls of this nature.  Most people certainly want to quickly help a relative or family member in need, which is very understandable, but always be prepared for a fraudulent scheme.  If the Sheriff’s Office or your local law enforcement agency can be of assistance in these matters, then do not hesitate to contact them.

/s/ John F. Montgomery,
Baxter County Sheriff

 
 
 
 
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