PORTLAND, Ore. — Imagine getting a phone call telling you there is a warrant for your arrest, and you must pay bail immediately over the phone or be arrested.
Sounds like a scam, right?
Well, this latest con is a bit trickier than that. The incoming call comes from what appears to be an official police number and the person who is calling uses the name of a real officer.
Portland police received two reports from people in the real estate industry who have been targeted, one in Bend and the other in Eugene.
In both cases, the caller said his name was Sgt. Peter Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau.
"Pretty jarring to hear somebody using my identity to scam someone," Simpson said.
On top of that, the number that came up on the caller ID was the Portland police non-emergency line — 503-823-3333 — according to Simpson.
The scammer is essentially spoofing a legitimate police agency number and using the real name of a law enforcement officer to gain the trust of the victim. So you may think the call is coming from police but really it is a scamming thief.
"But the phone number they left on the voicemail is a different number and that's the hook, that’s the number that goes to the actual suspect," Simpson said.
You may recognize Simpson's name from past news coverage. He was the spokesperson for Portland police for seven years. A simple Google search brings up a trove of news stories and videos.
Simpson's name recognition may play a role in why the scammer used his name, but it also helped one would-be victim sniff out the scammer.
When the victim got a voicemail, demanding bail money, her daughter turned to the internet. They found old interview videos of Simpson online and compared them to the voice on the phone. They quickly realized the two were not the same person.
"It was good sleuthing on their part," Simpson said.
Neither of the reported victims fell for the scam. Their conversations never got to the point where the scammer asked for a specific dollar amount. However, Simpson said scams like these have cost others thousands of dollars in the past.
"You hear about them and it's just heartbreaking because they're getting people for thousands of dollars. And in some cases, people don't have that money to give," he said.
Police are currently investigating the case. As of now, they're not sure why real estate agents have been targeted.
TIPS TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM OF A SCAM
- Never give personal or financial information to an unsolicited caller or email.
- Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason.
- Stay private. Regularly update privacy settings for social media sites. Scammers often make their stories more believable by trolling for personal information on Facebook, Twitter and similar sites.
- Remember that anyone who has the number on a prepaid card has access to the funds on your card.
- Never wire money, provide debit or credit card numbers to a stranger.
PORTLAND POLICE REMINDERS
- PPB does not call individuals and demand or request money from community members under any circumstances.
- PPB or any other legitimate law enforcement agency does not call community members seeking payment for outstanding traffic citations or warrants. This includes claims of unpaid federal or state taxes.
- Individuals claiming to collect debts may try to instill fear in potential victims to persuade them to forward money.
- MoneyPak/Green Dot and Vanilla Reload have online tools to allow purchasers to request a refund if the scammer has not yet cashed the card.
- If you are a resident of Portland and fall victim to these scammers with financial loss, you are encouraged to file a report by calling the Portland Police Bureau's Non-Emergency line at (503) 823-3333.