CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Authorities are warning Lowcountry residents to be aware of telephone scammers who are impersonating law enforcement with the goal of stealing your money.
The warning comes from the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina and the Federal Bureau of Investigations – they say South Carolinians, particularly residents in the Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions, should be on alert for scammers looking to steal their money and identity.
U.S. Attorney M. Rhett Hart says callers will spoof or fake phone numbers so that the calls appear to come from a local police department.
The scammers will also provide information like the names of actual law enforcement officers and badge numbers, and often research professional and personal information of the victim – on social media or other open-information sources – to gain trust or make their schemes more believable.
Once trust is established, Hart says the scammers will attempt to collect money with prepaid debit cards like GreenDot MoneyPak or gift cards to rectify whatever situation the victims are told they are in – such as failing to report for jury duty, failure to appear as an expert witness to a court hearing, or other offenses.
The scammers then stay on the phone with the victim, while the victim is instructed to purchase and until the victim provides the prepaid debit card to satisfy the fine.
“The best defense to these scams is knowledge and vigilance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Ferensic. “Citizens should understand law enforcement will not demand payment of money by way of phone call or email. Suspicious solicitations of this type should be reported to the police or IC3.GOV, a web site maintained by the FBI. We will continue to investigate these complaints and track down the perpetrators.”
Although these types of scams have historically targeted the elderly, authorities say the recent iteration has primarily focused on professionals, including threatening professionals with the loss of their professional credentials in addition to the identity and monetary theft.
To avoid falling victim to such crimes and to help prevent further fraud of this type, Acting U.S. Attorney DeHart offers the following tips:
- Make your social media accounts private and only accept requests and messages from people you know.
- Be wary of answering phone calls from unrecognizable numbers.
- Call, on another phone, the number that you were called from to confirm the legitimacy of the caller and reason for the call.
- Know that a police department or law enforcement officer will never solicit money – particularly through gift cards – from the public.
- Never give your personal information, including banking information – to someone over the phone.
- Do not send money to people or organizations that you do not personally know and trust.
- If you receive a call that appears to be government impersonation fraud, disconnect without providing any personal information and without adhering to the caller’s instructions
- Contact your local police department immediately to report the fraud by calling 911.
- Submit complaints to the FBI at ic3.gov and the Federal Trade Commission, which collects fraud reports nationwide, at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
- Warn family, friends, and associates about the scam, so they can be on high alert.