Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri issued a warning to the public regarding a recent telephone scam where a caller falsely claims to be an officer employed by his office.
The scam came to light after a victim reported that they received a call from a number that appeared to be the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, and the caller identified themselves as “Sergeant Whitlock” with the Prosecutor’s Office.
The scammer went on to claim that the resident had a warrant for their arrest and directed them to drive to a drugstore to purchase gift cards.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Cyber Crimes Unit was informed of the incident by the Cranbury Township Police Department in Middlesex County on April 20, 2023.
Authorities all over the country and the world are warning the public about similar phone scams, including the United States Attorney’s Office, U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, and even the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
Chattanooga Police Lt. Joe Shaw said, “At no time regardless of the circumstances, regardless of whether it’s a missed subpoena or an actual criminal charge, at no time will law enforcement accept payment in lieu of an arrest.”
In response, Onofri has reminded the public that law enforcement officers and government agencies will never ask for payment over the phone, nor will they request personal identifying information that could be used for fraudulent purposes.
Law enforcement, government agencies, and courts will never ask for payment through unusual methods, such as gift cards, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency.
Scammers often research their potential victims on the internet and social media, and then call them, deceiving them into thinking that they are law enforcement officers, prosecutors, or police employees.
Scammers may even spoof a law enforcement telephone number, falsely showing on the victim’s caller ID. Spoofed phone numbers are usually done through a VPN, making it difficult for law enforcement to track the actual caller.
Scammers may threaten their victims with arrest for outstanding warrants or other legal issues.
Despite the People lose a lot of money to phone scams — sometimes their life savings. Scammers have figured out countless ways to cheat you out of your money over the phone. In some scams, they act friendly and helpful. In others, they might threaten or try to scare you. One thing you can count on is that a phone scammer will try to get your money or your personal information to commit identity theft. Don’t give it to them.
Onofri advises that anyone who receives a call from a police department or the Prosecutor’s Office within Mercer County should confirm with whom they are speaking. If the call appears to be a scam, hang up and call the main phone number of the police department or Prosecutor’s Office (609-989-6351).
A police dispatcher or receptionist can verify the caller’s identity if the call is legitimate but any scam calls should be reported to the local law enforcement agency.
Those who receive these calls are also encouraged to report them to the FTC via their website (https://reportfraud.ftc.gov) or by calling 877–FTC–HELP (877-382-4357).
Fraud can also be reported to the FBI for law enforcement action. In addition, please be cautious about providing any personal information (names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers) to anyone who calls or emails you because it could result in identity theft.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is urging the public to be vigilant and to take steps to protect themselves from scams. It is crucial to verify the identity of callers claiming to be from law enforcement, government agencies, or courts before taking any action. By staying alert and reporting any scam calls, residents can help law enforcement to catch the perpetrators of these fraudulent activities.
Additional tips to ensure your security and safety:
- Never trust the caller ID number; the displayed telephone number can be manipulated with software.
- Always consider sending unsolicited phone calls to voicemail. Many scam call centers will not leave a message.
- Never click on links contained in unsolicited emails or text messages. The links may route you to fake websites or deploy malicious software.
- Protect your personal and financial information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails or social media posts claiming to be a government agency.
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