The phone rings and it’s your granddaughter, who says she’s been arrested and needs bail money. Or maybe it’s someone claiming to be from the IRS, who says you owe the government back taxes. It could even be from someone who says they work for Avista, telling you that your power will be shut off if you don’t pay hundreds of dollars immediately.
Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Mark Gregory has heard all of these stories and more from people who call the Sheriff’s Office for help.
The solution suggested by the callers is always the same: to put the money the person “owes” on a prepaid debit card and then provide the caller with the card number and PIN.
“There’s a common theme,” Gregory said.
No legitimate organization will ever ask for payment that way, Gregory said.
Scammers have equipment that can make it look like they really are calling from Avista or the Sheriff’s Office, which is called spoofing.
It’s important to call the organization the caller names and ask if the information is legitimate. But people need to look up the phone number and call the number they find, Gregory said.
“Don’t call the caller ID number back,” he said. “Either it’s a ghosted number, which is bad, or it goes right back to the people who called you.”
Another classic is a call from someone claiming to be with the police or sheriff’s office that claims the person has missed jury duty. The caller will threaten to issue a warrant for their arrest if they don’t pay a “fine” immediately.
“All they’re trying to do is scare someone,” Gregory said. “They’re just preying on emotion. They’re predators. They don’t care who they hurt or how bad.”
Problems don’t just come over the phone. There are also emails, some that promise you cash if you help move money out of Africa or Vietnam or some other place.
Gregory said he recently got an email that looked like it came from Delta Air Lines that was supposed to be a confirmation for a flight that he booked, only he hadn’t booked a flight. He called the airline, which told him not to click on the email. Doing so would allow cyber criminals a chance to gain control of his computer.
“You shouldn’t click on anything,” Gregory said.
A man once came to the Public Safety Building after receiving a fake jury duty phone call. He walked up to the front desk and demanded to know why there was a warrant for his arrest.
Gregory spoke to the man, who provided the name and phone number of the person who called him claiming to be with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Gregory called him and even after he identified himself the man still insisted he was with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I invited him to come to the Public Safety Building and compare credentials,” Gregory said.
Not surprisingly, the man never showed.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.