COLUMBIA, S.C. — Investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the US Attorney's Office want to warn South Carolinians -- particularly those in the Lowcountry and Pee Dee Region -- to be aware of scammers impersonating law enforcement to steal money and identities of victims.
Scammers pretending to be members of law enforcement have been making calls to targeted individuals using phone numbers that appear to come from a real local police department. The callers have provided information, such as real names and badge numbers of actual law enforcement officers, in order to gain the trust of their victims to steal money and identification.
These scammers sometimes 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.
The information gathered by the scammer -- such as failing to report for jury duty, failure to appear as an expert witness to a court hearing, or other offenses -- is used against the victim to collect money with prepaid debit cards like GreenDot MoneyPak or gift cards. 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.
Although these types of scams have historically targeted the elderly, 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.
“The best defense to these scams is knowledge and vigilance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Susan 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.”
To avoid falling victim to such crimes and to help prevent further fraud of this type, Acting U.S. Attorney M Rhett 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.