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Local woman describes how scam caller fooled her husband

Aggressive scammers claiming to be Jackson County Sheriff's Office employees have been threatening area residents with arrest warrants unless they pay over the phone using prepaid debit cards.

Among the victims who fell prey to the scam was an Ashland man who paid the scammers at least $2,000 using prepaid Green Dot debit cards bought at the Ashland Albertsons, according to a woman who identified herself as the victim's wife. She intervened after the fraudsters sought more money than what was in their account, prompting him to ask her for help.  She asked that their names not be used.  

The woman described fear tactics that caught her husband off-guard, then prevented him from second-guessing their instructions.

"My husband is just beside himself because he fell for it," the woman said.

A caller, who had a Southern accent and identified himself using the name of an actual Jackson County sheriff's detective, peppered her husband with phone calls using multiple lines belonging to the victim, including his office line and a cell phone line belonging to their daughter.

"They're putting a scenario in front of you that could be real," she said.

Once they reached his cell phone, they ordered him not to disconnect the call until he'd paid them $3,000, threatening that a deputy would be waiting for him at their home if he did not pay.  He left work early and bought as many Green Dot cards in $500 increments as their account would allow, read them the card numbers, then called his wife from an office line about coming up with the remainder of the $3,000.

"That's when I intervened," she said. "In that hour or 45 minutes they just had him."

The scam follows a pattern of calls using real police officers' names and faked numbers, according to previous news reports and the (actual) Jackson County Sheriff's Office. Archives show similar scams reported since at least 2016 in the Medford area.

"They're generally saying that the person failed to appear in court, or that a civil judgment has been entered against them," said sheriff's Sgt. Julie Denney.

The calls come with some appearance of credibility, too, as the individuals behind the calls use a program to create a fake phone number — called a "spoof" number — intended to ensure the sheriff's office general line number shows up in a victim's caller ID, according to a sheriff's department news release.

If anyone returns the call they just received, it goes directly to the actual sheriff's office.

Earlier this week, agency personnel received several calls from people who had received such calls.

"Once you provide that payment, it's gone," Denney said. "It's like giving someone cash."

The use of spoof numbers in scams is nothing new, with such incidents reportedly coming in somewhat regular waves. In a previous case, the thieves on the other end of the phone line also had Southern accents.

"It could be the same people," Denney said of the latest calls.

The sheriff's office will not call to demand a payment "for any reason," the release says. Warrants cannot be cleared over the phone. Those wanting to clear a warrant must turn themselves in at the Jackson County Jail.

Residents are urged to be wary of anyone claiming to be a police officer or other government official, especially if they are making threats about warrants and demanding money. Anyone who is targeted should hang up and call the sheriff's office at 541-774-6800 if they have questions about the validity of the person contacting them.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com and Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4471.