FBI issues warning on telephone scam

By: Staff report

CHARLOTTE — The FBI is warning the public about a telephone scam that makes use of the bureau’s real telephone number.

The scam is nationwide, but neither the Lumberton Police Department nor the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office have had any complaints. Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said he is aware of scams that use false numbers, but so far not the FBI’s.

“I have gotten three calls myself this week from people with follow-up questions, but it is too late because they were already scammed,” Shelley Lynch, Public Affairs specialist at FBI Charlotte Field Office, said Wednesday.

According to an FBI press release, the scam involves a spoof, or fraudulent display, of the bureau’s real telephone number on the victim’s caller ID. The scammer impersonates a government official and uses intimidation tactics, such as the threat of arrest, to demand payment of money purportedly owed to the government.

“These claims are false,” the release reads in part. “The calls are not from the FBI. The FBI does not call private citizens to request money or threaten arrest.”

The FBI Charlotte’s main telephone number, 704-672-6100, has been used recently in the scam calls, according to the bureau. The numbers of its Resident Agencies also have been used in scam calls made throughout North Carolina.

“Other FBI offices across the country have also seen this crime recently,” the release reads in part.

This scam is called government impersonation fraud, according to the FBI. The scammers often threaten to extort victims with physical or financial harm or the release of sensitive information about their intended victim. In some cases, the intended target may be told there is a federal warrant for his or her arrest, but the warrant would be dismissed in exchange for immediate payment to the caller.

“The caller will oftentimes know the full name, extensive background, birth date, family members, and/or personal cell phone number of the intended victim,” the press release reads in part. “There are several ways individuals with criminal intentions can obtain this information. However, many times the victims themselves have disclosed their personal information online.”

The FBI offers the following tips to avoid becoming the victim of government impersonation fraud and scams:

— Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls.

— Never give money or personal information to someone with whom you don’t have ties and did not initiate contact.

— A government agency or legitimate business will never ask you to pay a fee or a fine using a third-party form of payment, such as a gift card.

— Scammers count on your lack of knowledge, so take the time to educate yourself about any offer you receive.

— Trust your instincts. If an unknown caller makes you uncomfortable or says things that don’t sound right or sound too good to be true, hang up.

According to the Internet Crimes Complaint Center, more than 12,000 people nationwide have reported being victims of government impersonation scams in 2019, with losses totaling more than $112 million.

“Additionally, the public should be aware that other law enforcement agencies in our community, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Social Security Administration, and local law enforcement agencies are also being impersonated using similar tactics as described above. If you receive a call of this nature, please contact these government agency’s offices and verify a representative of their agency contacted you in order to avoid being victimized,” the FBI release reads in part.

Anyone who has been victimized by this type of scam is encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center by visiting https://www.ic3.gov.

Staff report