New phone scam has targeted Clermont County residents

January 11th, 2008    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

Beware the next incoming call, it could be a scam. According to detectives in two Clermont County police departments, at least three county residents in the past few months have been hit by a phone scam that, if successful, could cost the victim hundreds of dollars.

Detective Scott Blankenship of the Union Township Police Department said that there have been two victims that have come forward about the scam in his township.

“We had two victims in our township, and it appears that Pierce Township had one,” said Det. Blankenship. “There are some similarities, one being that they stated that a family member or friend had been involved in an auto crash and they gave them a number to call starting with *72. We have the number they were asked to call. When they called back, the perpetrators would clone the phone number being called from. I believe Pierce Township traced their call back to the Cook County Jail in Chicago, and I believe ours may be from the same area.”

According to the detective, the plan is simple, if the execution is not. The victim gets a call that is geared to convince them to call a number that is given to them. The number begins with *72, and is designed to give the person on the other end access to their long distance calling service. The criminal is then able to make long distance calls that are charged back to the victim. In this case, it is believed that the perpetrators are actually already in jail, and are completing the scam with the help of someone they know who is on the outside.

"The person in jail was calling out, and when the victim called back, they would pick up the phone and 'clone' the number," said Det. Blankenship. "When they were on, you couldn't use your phone. You couldn't call out or receive calls. This is pretty difficult, and the people doing it are using the people in jail as a setup so their number can't be traced. It's like a three-way call. The person from the jail transfers it to an unknown number. The victims get a bill from a third-part company."

Most often, the initial call to the victim tries to convince the victim that someone they know has been in some sort of car accident, or similar circumstance, and that they need to return a call to learn more. In most cases, the perpetrators pretend to be police searching for information. That, however, should be a big tip off, said Union Township Police Lt. Scott Gaviglia. That sort of contact, he said, is always made in person, even if the accident happened in another state.

"When this happens, say someone is killed in Florida, the police there will call us," said Lt. Gaviglia. "To make sure they are correct, we require they send us a teletype, because only law enforcement has access to teletype. There is no room for errors when you're knocking on someone's door at 3 a.m."

Detective Mike Buckler of the Pierce Township Police agreed. No police agency, he said, would contact anyone concerning a death or injury except for in person. Det. Blankenship said that residents who receive a call of this type should immediately contact the police and then their phone company. Victims of crimes like this can possibly lose hundreds or thousands of dollars in long distance charges if it isn't caught quickly, but can be stopped or even recouped if caught in time.

"The best thing to do is contact both the police and phone company," said Det. Blankenship. "If you notice a spike in phone billing, that's how most people catch it. Normally, what phone companies will do is credit the bill with a police report."

If you have fallen victim to this type of scam, you may notice a slight change in how your phone is working, said Det. Blankenship. When the perpetrator is on the line, you can neither receive nor make a call, but service will work normally when the perpetrator is not using the line. One victim, he said, was alerted when she stopped receiving calls and was unable to make them at various times. The thieves in that instance ran up over $200 on her phone bill before they were caught. Another area resident caught the problem soon, only accruing about $40 in fraudulent calls.

"The phone stops working when they occupy the line," said Det. Blankenship. "It takes it out of service for you. You can't hear their conversation, it just doesn't work."

"We see mail fraud, and internet fraud, but you don't see much phone fraud," added Det. Blankenship. "This is getting a little more sophisticated."

More information about this and other phone scams is available online at http://www22.verizon.com/pages/securityalerts/
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