Washington County Sheriff’s Office warning public of scammers claiming to be law enforcement

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is warning people about scammers claiming to work for the sheriff’s office and threatening to arrest people if they don’t pay them money.

A phone showing the Instagram app icon | Associated Press file photo by Jeff Chiu, St. George News

Along with other police agencies throughout the state, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has begun to see another increase in fraud schemes in which scammers are using the names of actual Sheriff’s Office personnel.

“Over the past few weeks we have been made aware of several attempts to illegally solicit money by individuals claiming to work for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office,” a statement issued by the agency on social media says.

Many of the victims were caught off guard initially, as the fraudster called and identified themselves by using the name and rank of an actual Sheriff’s Office employee saying they had missed a mandatory court appearance and needed to send payments to avoid being arrested.

“In some instances, the suspect has actually requested to meet the targeted individual in person after the payment is made,” police say.

It also appears the suspects researched their victims before calling since a number of victims reported receiving the calls at both their home and place of business.

Individuals can protect themselves and minimize the risk of becoming a victim by doing some research before sending any money or complying with a demand made over the phone.

First and foremost, Washington County Sheriff’s Office personnel are prohibited from directly accepting payments in any form for citations, warrants or civil process. Additionally, if a court date is missed, that person should contact the court directly.

It is also common for a scammer to provide a phone number to the victim which is answered with an official greeting to convince the caller they have reached a legitimate agency. Before returning a call to someone claiming to be from an official agency, it is recommended to double-check the phone number.

However, suspects also sometimes use caller ID spoofing, which is when a fraudster deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to the targeted individual’s caller ID display to disguise their identity. This tactic is often used to make it appear that the calls is coming from a legitimate agency, when in fact it is not.

Similar scams in other agencies

Last month, fraudsters impersonated Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to message potential victims through Facebook Messenger advertising grants worth thousands of dollars in exchange for a small fee. When an individual responded to the message, they were directed to a bogus personal page to complete a series of grant application questions, according to reports received by the agency.

Once the application was “approved” they were prompted to send the payment. Soon after, they received a grant check in return. The check would bounce, but by then, the scammer and the victim’s money were gone.

In July, the U.S. Marshal’s Office reported a scam similar to what was reported at the Sheriff’s Office. Fraudsters would attempt to collect a fine by claiming the call recipient has failed to report for jury duty or other offenses. Scammers then told victims they could avoid arrest by purchasing a prepaid debit card, such as a Green Dot card or gift card, and then read the card number over the phone to satisfy the fine.

“Scammers using technology to modify what number appears on your caller ID to impersonate phone numbers from friends, local businesses, and in our case, law enforcement, to appear legit,” U.S. Marshal Matthew D. Harris said in the July release.

Any demand for payment in lieu of arrest should raise suspicion that the call is likely a scam, particularly when it is accompanied by instructions to wire money or send pre-paid gift cards.

Any suspicious calls can be reported to either the Sheriff’s Office at 435-656-6500 or the dispatch center at 435-656-5730.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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