December 5, 2017 10:57:58 AM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
If someone calls 662-480-3001, they will get a voicemail from a man with a thick Southern accent, informing the caller they've reached the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office's non-emergency line -- dial 1 to talk to an officer, dial 2 for the warrants division and otherwise please leave a brief and detailed message, it instructs.
There's just one problem: that's not the sheriff's office's number, and whoever has been calling from it is reportedly scamming unsuspecting victims out of money.
Over the last few weeks, Lowndes County residents have been receiving calls from that, and a handful of other, local numbers. The caller tells them he or she is from LCSO, that there is a warrant out for the victim's arrest and that the victim must drive to a nearby business and purchase a credit card to pay the office to avoid jail time.
It's the latest scam, the type of crime that increases around the holidays and particularly targets the elderly in communities, LCSO Chief Deputy Marc Miley said -- though not always. Miley himself received a phone call from the scammer.
Luckily for Miley, he knew he wasn't in trouble with his own department.
"It's all a fraud, all a scam," he said. "That's not the way the sheriff's office does business."
Columbus Police Department received two reports of this particular scam in November, Assistant Chief Fred Shelton said. Meanwhile, LCSO received about 15 reports in just the last week.
The suspected scammer will call from a 662 number claiming to be from LCSO's warrants division and claiming the victim has recently violated the law -- for example, they missed jury duty, Miley said. They insist the victim stay on the line with them while the victim drives to a nearby store to purchase a "green dot card" or "verification card." Once the victim arrives at the store, the caller directs him or her to pick out a VISA credit card or similar -- usually by describing the card by color -- and has them purchase it. All the scammer needs, Miley said, is the number on the card.
The number that ends in 3001 is one of several numbers victims have reported to LCSO, along with 352-2502, 352-2503 and 352-2593.
Scams like this one tend to increase during the holiday season, Miley and Shelton both said. Shelton said in the past, callers have claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service or debt collection services -- all trying to get money from unsuspecting victims. They tend to target the elderly, said Miley, who are both more likely to do what the caller says and more likely to not report the scam after it has happened because they're worried about the reactions from their children or other family members.
Shelton said the caller could potentially be charged with exploitation of a vulnerable person, a felony if the victim is cheated out of more than $250. The penalty could be up to 10 years in prison.
Miley warned area residents to be aware of this and similar scams.
"Don't give money to anybody," he said. "Don't fall for anything."