The scammers create a sense of urgency. They convince victims to wire money to various locations.
“That’s what they do. They start to solicit answers, and they get information out of you,” said Officer Rebecca Innocenti. “Don’t offer them information. They are using that information to manipulate you.”
“Often, you do not realize that you are giving them valuable information,” according to police.
At least five Montgomery County residents have reported such scams since Feb. 20.
“Two wired money, three did not,” said Innocenti.
The scammers create a variety of emergency situations: that a loved one is in jail, that a son has been in an accident, that a husband and son were injured. They generally tell victims that a family member or friend is in trouble or needs help.
“To assist in helping the family or friend, the victim is required to send money via wire transfer or other fund transfer,” according to police reports.
A ROCKVILLE RESIDENT confirmed to a caller that she had a son on Feb. 20. The caller then told the resident that her son had been kidnapped following a car accident and would be killed unless she wired money, according to police reports.
The victim transferred money via wire transfer to Florida and Puerto Rico.
“Red flags should go up when they are asking you to wire money. No public agency is going to ask you to wire money,” said Innocenti. “You’ve got to slow down and ask, ‘Does this make sense?’”
Another county resident who was told his brother had been shot didn’t believe the caller and asked probing questions, according to police. “The suspect hung up the phone after realizing the resident did not believe the story.”
“If you say no, they hang up, and are on to the next caller. They don’t want to work harder,” said Innocenti.
Another resident on Feb. 23 was told his son and brother were being held hostage after an accident, and that he needed to pay for damages to a damaged vehicle.
“The resident told the suspect he was calling police and ended the call. The resident was able to verify that his brother was safe,” according to police.
Innocenti said they have linked five cases to the same phone number in Puerto Rico. Scammers are able to use a technique called “spoofing” to make phone numbers appear to be coming from a local number on Caller ID displays.
“They are randomly calling people in any part of the country,” she said.
“Ask for as much information as you can, ask them where, when, ask them for their name and tell them you will call them back,” she said. “If it is a reputable person, they will answer this.”
THE FINANCIAL CRIMES Section of the police received reports of scammers posing as victims’ grandchildren in the Friendship Heights area in November 2012.
Elderly residents were contacted by telephone by a suspect who said he or she had been arrested or involved in an accident in Mexico or Canada, needed money to be sent, and to “not contact” the mother or father.
“The victim is told to send the money quickly and given a bank account number into which to deposit the money,” according to police documents at the time.
“Do not provide information over the phone,” say police. “Do not provide bank account numbers over the phone, and do not send money to anyone you do not know. Most importantly, if you feel that you have been the victim of a scam, contact police.”
“Your report to the police is oftentimes the only way that police know that such incidents are occurring,” according to police.