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Police warn of old scam with new twist

Police are warning of a new wave of scams in which fraudsters pose as local law enforcement and ask for money.

A woman reported losing roughly $2,500 to the scammers Wednesday, police said.

The woman told the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office she got a call from a scammer who identified himself as a deputy, according to a JCSO news release. The woman was told she had a warrant for failing to appear in court, and the scammer demanded she buy prepaid debit cards and provide the numbers over the phone.

This sort of scam is nothing new, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Julie Denney, but a new electronic twist makes it more deceptive.

For years, fraudsters have falsely identified themselves as local law enforcement officers using actual police officers’ names. What’s new, according to Denney, is an official-sounding greeting when a potential victim calls back.

An electronic voice falsely says that the sheriff’s office no longer accepts “cash, checks or credit/debit card payments,” according to a recording posted Wednesday by the sheriff’s office on YouTube.

“It kind of makes it sound more legitimate when you have a recording like that,” Denney said.

The greeting, which includes the actual JCSO address, prompts callers to dial a number to be routed to a live fraudster, who tries to convince potential victims that they face arrest if they don’t comply with demands. Typically, people are asked to buy prepaid debit cards and then to provide the card numbers over the phone.

Denney said the sheriff’s office never contacts people by phone about warrants or unpaid fines. Any payments are handled in face-to-face transactions at the sheriff’s office, but Denney said the scenario used in the scam isn’t plausible.

“We don’t accept money for fines anyway,” Denney said. “That’s done through courts.”

Anyone unsure whether a call is legitimate should call the nonemergency dispatch line at 541-776-7206 and ask to speak with a sheriff’s deputy.

“The most important thing is to not send any money,” Denney said.

The scam is hitting people of all ages, according to Denney, but seniors tend to be the most vulnerable, and getting any money back is “virtually impossible.”

Denney said the scammers use online tools that let them operate from anywhere in the world.

“All they need is a computer and a phone line,” she said. “Tracking them is next to impossible for a local law enforcement agency.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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