ST. GEORGE – Against a backdrop of an ever-increasing number of telephone-based scams targeting Southern Utah residents, two recent ones involved callers identifying themselves as Washington County Sheriff’s Office personnel. One of the scams was thwarted, the other succeeded.
In the first incident, according to the Sheriff’s Office, the caller identified himself as Lt. Trevor Benson with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The caller told the resident there were two warrants for his arrest and that he needed to send two money packets to clear the charges.
The would-be scammer initially called from an unfamiliar number but eventually made contact with the resident from a number registered to the Sheriff’s Office.
“A unique circumstance to this fraud attempt was the suspect using the names of actual certified personnel, and also their ability to clone the Sheriff’s Office phone number, giving a legitimate appearance to their victims,” sheriff’s Public Information Officer Lt. David Crouse said.
The resident did not send money but instead came to the Sheriff’s Office to handle the matter in person.
In the second incident, however, the victim was lured into transferring $3,500 to the suspect for alleged warrants resulting from “failure to appear.”
The suspect identified himself as Sgt. Maddox with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Civil Division. He demanded payment via reloadable debit cards.
Although the victim was initially suspicious, a friend contacted the Sheriff’s Office and verified that it employs a deputy by that name. The victim then agreed to send the cards as payment. When the suspect called a second time requesting more money, the incident was reported to the Sheriff’s Office and identified as fraudulent activity.
In a new release issued Wednesday, Crouse said the Sheriff’s Office is working to identify the suspects in the two cases.
During the past several months, law enforcement in Southern Utah has seen an increase in telephone-based scam attempts, the release said.
Callers typically identify themselves as a government authority, threatening arrest if you do not pay fees owed. During tax season, a popular scam involves suspects posing as IRS agents, claiming you owe taxes and threatening arrest unless you make immediate payment.
The Sheriff’s Office offers the following basic tips and information on its practices so residents can avoid becoming a victim:
- It is not normal practice for a member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to contact you by phone regarding outstanding warrants you may have.
- If you were notified of an actual warrant (typically in person) you would be directed to the issuing court for a resolution.
- Although suspects have the ability to clone official phone numbers for outgoing calls, they will not receive calls made to that number. If you suspect fraudulent activity, contact the Sheriff’s Office or your local law enforcement agency, allowing them to investigate the authenticity of the report.
- Although many courts accept online payments through official websites, no law enforcement agency will ever request that you send money cards or wire transfers. This is a strong indication the request is fraudulent.
- In many cases victims actually have warrants for their arrest. Citizens are able to search statewide warrants using this website.