Police threats disguised by phone ID spoofing

When Pocatello resident John Mills heard his son say they were going to arrest him for an unpaid bill, Mills was beside himself.

“He’s a good kid,” Mills said. “If it had been that he didn’t pay his bill, it must have been a total mistake on his part.”

The supposed debt collector told Mills his son needed to pay the debt immediately or face increased fines and/or arrest and prosecution. To keep his son out of trouble, Mills went to a Walgreens and bought a “GreenDot” card (a rechargeable debit card) as instructed.

Con artists are taking advantage of caller ID spoofing technology and posing as representatives of local law enforcement offices. They are calling residents and demanding payment of nonexistent fines, taxes and bad debts. The BBB has been plagued this past week with such calls.

“It was only after I had the card in hand that I realized, ‘This is a scam,’ ” Mills said.

Here’s how it works. The phone rings. Caller ID shows the number is a local law enforcement office, so you answer. The “officer” tells you there’s a warrant out for your arrest. But you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges. Of course, they don’t take credit cards, only a money order or prepaid debit card.

The con artists use a computer program that changes the number recipients see on their caller ID. This is known as spoofing. The scam is popping up all around the country, with scammers spoofing different numbers depending on a victim’s location.

Victims have reported that such trickery doesn’t end with faking a phone number. Some reports indicate scammers used the names of specific local police officers, the Internal Revenue Service, county courthouses and sheriff’s offices. Others said the con artists had personal information about the victims. For example, one Boise-area man almost fell for the scam when the callers knew about a recent loan he’d applied for online.

What to do if the “police” call:

•Don’t wire any money. The police will not ask for payment over the phone, especially by money order or prepaid debit card.

• Just hang up and don’t call back. It is tempting to get the last word, but you may end up giving scammers information they can use later.

• Call the real police and tell them what happened. If you were targeted, so were others in your area. Help local authorities get the word out about the scam.

• Never give out your personal information. Caller ID spoofing makes it very easy for callers to pretend to be someone else. Scammers also have posed as immigration authorities and representatives of utility companies. Be very skeptical of anyone who calls asking for money or personal information.