By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A city resident lost $850 to a phone scam, and at least 11 others have received calls from people demanding money in what police say are four con scenarios.
The scam that has affected the most people so far involves a male caller who claims to be a lieutenant with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, said Plattsburgh City Police Lt. Scott Beebie.
Between March 20, when the victim who lost money reported the incident to police, and Tuesday, four residents had told City Police they had also received the phony calls, he said.
Emily Harris of Plattsburgh told the Press-Republican that she had just returned home from work on Monday when she realized she had missed a call on her home phone and called the number back.
A man identifying himself as “Lt. James” from the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department told her there was a warrant for her arrest and that she would be taken into custody within the hour unless she paid $1,000 in restitution, Harris said.
“He said that it was for failing to appear for jury selection.”
However, Harris had not received a jury summons.
She stayed on the phone with the man for about 15 minutes, she said, but refused to give him any information.
He had called her by her husband’s last name, Smith, she said.
“I never took my husband’s last name, so I knew this guy had the wrong person.”
Harris provided the Press-Republican with the phony lieutenant’s phone number. When dialed, a message from Verizon Wireless says it has been either disconnected or changed.
Harris said she panicked during the phone conversation, thinking about what would happen to her if the situation were genuine.
“I kept thinking, oh my God, I’m going to be arrested, I’m going to lose my job, I’m going to lose my livelihood.”
The call was unsettling, she said.
“(It) really makes me wonder how secure my information really is. It makes me wonder how these people can just search a name and find a phone number and target them.”
Harris said she is not the person who police say wired $850 to the caller.
On Thursday, that victim of the scam was instructed to go to a local retailer, like Wal-Mart or Walgreens, and put money on a money-transfer card to pay a fine to prevent arrest, Beebie said.
“It’s like the 21st-century version of Western Union,” he described the process.
The person scratches off a film on the back of the card, revealing a transfer number and then calls the scammer back and reads it to him, Beebie said.
Imposters can then use the number to wire the money to themselves.
The $850 the person wired to the scammer had not been recovered, Beebie said, but officers in both the patrol and detective division of the City Police Department are working on the case.
“We are actively pursuing all leads, but the issue is we have to deal with cellphone companies, subpoenas.”
Police must receive legal permission to obtain surveillance video of the store where the person bought the money-transfer card and to review other evidence, like phone records, he said.
“There’s a lot to do.”
Beebie said city residents have reported three other scam scenarios, in addition to the fictional story of the arrest warrant for failure to show up for jury duty.
One has received national attention, he said. In that ruse, a caller claims that there is a problem with IRS tax returns and says the call recipient owes a fine.
In the third scam, a fake computer technician tells the person they have computer problems and asks for a payment to fix them.
And in the fourth scenario that City Police have received reports of, the person receives a call from a fake loan collector with a Texas phone number. The impostor tells the call recipient that he is the cosigner on a credit card and that the cardholder has defaulted on the money owed and that monetary compensation is required to settle the debt.
“The only victims that I’m aware of so far are to the lieutenant scam,” Beebie said.
Two people have received IRS scam calls, at least two were called by the fake computer technician, and more than two were called by a person who identified himself as a credit-card debt collector, Beebie said.
The calls appear to be random, he said, and no particular demographic seems to be the sole target.
People who receive calls that appears to be fake should not provide any personal information but learn as much as they can about the caller and the organization for which he claims to work, Beebie said.
“Be suspicious, obtain all biographical info you can, disconnect the phone call and notify law enforcement. And don’t wait.”
Police should be called as soon as possible, he said.
City Police are working with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department and the Clinton County District Attorney’s Office in their investigation.
The Sheriff’s Office has been referring scam reports to City Police. State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Trooper Jennifer Fleishman said that, to her knowledge, State Police haven’t received any complaints.
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IF YOU ARE CALLED
"If you get one of these cold calls, obtain as much information as you can," Plattsburgh City Police Lt. Scott Beebie said.
Most of the calls have been to landline home phones, he said. Ask for and write down the person's name, the name of the company or agency he's calling from and the call-back number.
Then research the agency online to determine if it's legitimate, and if it's suspicious, call the local police department as soon as possible. "Use your local law enforcement as a resource to help you," Beebie said.
Reach City Police at 563-3411.