Warrant scams target Nevada County residents
July 25, 2014
A new phone scam is plaguing Nevada County residents, with callers trying to extract money to resolve bogus bench warrants for failing to appear for jury duty.
In the last two days alone, four separate reports have been filed with the Nevada County Sheriff's Office from locals who have been hit by the fraudulent calls.
In some cases, said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, victims are being asked to buy pre-paid cards. The victim is then told to scratch off the number and provide it to the caller so it can be cashed in for the face value.
According to Royal, one woman was prevented from buying such a card in the amount of $2,000 at a local store after an alert employee realized she was being scammed.
“We may ask you to turn yourself in (on a warrant), but we would never ask you for money.”
Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal
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In other instances, the victims are asked to wire money.
"We may ask you to turn yourself in (on a warrant), but we would never ask you for money," Royal said.
Several victims reported remarkably similar scam calls.
Tina Phillips said her caller identified himself as Lt. Pete Davis with the Grass Valley Sheriff's Department.
"That made me suspicious," she said.
The man told her he was responsible for investigating bench warrants, and asked her if she had any misdemeanors or felonies before informing her that both she and her husband had two outstanding warrants for their arrest.
"He said, 'I presume you're a law-abiding citizen,'" Phillips said, adding that he told her the warrants had to do with jury duty.
She accused the man of pranking her, but he responded angrily, telling her she had 23 minutes to get down to the station and pay $1,998 to get the warrants lifted. He then asked for her cell phone number and told her she had to leave it on so she could be tracked, she said.
"I kind of freaked out, like maybe this was legit," Phillips said.
After she gave the man her cell number, he called her on that number and told her to collect the money and go to Rite Aid. When she questioned him, he told her to call him back when she arrived at the drugstore and he would tell her what to do.
She eventually contacted her husband and they called the number they were given — a local number that has since been disconnected.
A woman answered, identifying herself as a receptionist for the Grass Valley Sheriff's Department, and putting them through to "Lt. Davis."
"The guy was very convincing," Phillips said.
But enough suspicion remained that the couple contacted the real Sheriff's Office to check on their warrant status.
Sherrie Tatum, another recent near-victim, said the scammer was "very, very good."
"He sounds very official," she said.
The fake lieutenant told her she had an outstanding bench warrant, and had failed to respond to several notices and even a certified letter.
"I started thinking, maybe there's something" to this, Tatum said. "He asked me if I had ever been arrested for anything."
The scammer told her she needed to rectify the warrant by making financial restitution.
"That's when the red flag went up," she said, saying she told the man she would go to the Sheriff's Office to clear it up.
"He said no, I couldn't leave my house," Tatum said.
"He was trying to get my credit card over the phone … he said we could take care of it right now. I started feeling like, something's not right here."
The man told Tatum if she left her house, she would be considered a flight risk and would be picked up and arrested.
"He even read me my rights over the phone," she said.
Like Phillips, Tatum was asked for her cell phone number so she could be "tracked via GPS."
Both Tatum and Phillips expressed concern that some residents would get flustered and fall for the scam due to their lack of familiarity with law enforcement and the court system.
"He was so well-rehearsed," Tatum said. "He had me sucked in for the first few minutes."
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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