They started out posing as DEA agents threatening their intended victims with arrest for purchasing medication online, but a gang of international scam artists are apparently now posing as deputies with the Union County Sheriff’s Office and threatening people with arrest for making too many 911 calls.
On Wednesday, Sheriff David Taylor announced that two Union County residents had been contacted by scam artists posing as agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who were telling them that they’d broken the law by purchasing medication online or by telephone. The scam artists, who Taylor said are part of international extortion scheme that is targeting people throughout the country, then tell the people they call that they must pay a fine, which is to be paid via a wire transfer to an overseas location. If they victims refuse to pay, the extortionists then threaten them with arrest or a search of their property.
Taylor said the two people contacted by the scam artists refused to fall for their extortion attempt and instead called his office to report it. He said this was how his office first learned of the scam, prompting him to contact the DEA who informed him that the scam was occurring nationwide.
On Friday, Investigator Jeff Lawson said a third Union County resident has been called, apparently by the same scam artists, only now they are claiming to be with the sheriff’s office. Lawson said the woman said she’d received a call Wednesday from someone claiming to be a sheriff’s deputy and telling her she’d broken the law by making three 911 calls. He said the scam artist posing as a deputy told the woman that she had to pay a $250 fine and had to do it over the phone. The woman, however, refused to do so, and Lawson said the scam artist then told her that a warrant would be issued for her arrest if she didn’t pay.
Despite being threatened with arrest, Lawson said the woman, like the two people contacted earlier in the week by the phony DEA agents, refused to pay the fine over the phone. She also hung up on the extortionist and reported the incident to the sheriff’s office.
While it’s possible that this is a new scam being perpetrated by a different set of criminals, Lawson said it’s more likely that it is the same gang attempting a different, more localized approach to conning their victims.
“This seems like a variation on the scam reported to us earlier this week,” Lawson said. “It is just another ploy to try to convince the victim of the authority of the caller and scare them into paying a fine over the phone.”
When Taylor announced the original version of the scam, he pointed out that the threat of arrest made by the extortionists was the first and most obvious sign that the call is a scam. He said the DEA does not call and threaten people with arrest or call demanding they pay a fine over the phone. If someone commits a violation that falls under the authority of the DEA, Taylor agents will simply show up at that person’s home with a warrant for their arrest.
Lawson said the sheriff’s office doesn’t call people over the phone and threaten with arrest, either, and neither does it demand they pay fines over the phone.
“The Union County Sheriff’s Office would never discuss a violation with someone over the phone, we’d go in person and talk to them,” Lawson said. “We would also never demand payment of a fine over the telephone. A fine is set by a judge and collected by the magistrate’s office, we have nothing to do with that.”
Lawson pointed out that, as they did when posing as DEA agents, the extortionists posing as sheriff’s deputies are not only attempting to get the “fines” they demand, they are also trying to get personal information such as credit card numbers in order to continue robbing their victims.
“They are trying to get your credit card information, they’re trying to get your credit numbers and any other personal information that they can,” Lawson said. “Never give out any personal information such as credit card numbers over the telephone.”
In the DEA variation of the scam, Taylor said a person calling the number the phony DEA agent called from will be told that they are calling the “DEA Washington Office.” Taylor said this is not a DEA number and people should not be calling it in an attempt to verify the identity of the initial caller. They should instead call 911 or the sheriff’s office 429-1612 or call the DEA at 1-877-792-2873.
Lawson said the call in the sheriff’s office variation of the scam appeared to originate in Florida, itself a sign that it’s a scam. He further pointed out that while the call may appear to be coming from Florida, it may actually be coming from overseas and is simply being routed through Florida. As with the DEA variation of the scam, Lawson urged the public not to try and call the number the scam artist is calling from, but to call the sheriff’s office.
When caught, the extortionists will not only be charged with perpetrating a scam they will also face state charges for impersonating a sheriff’s deputy and federal charges for impersonating a DEA agent.