Scam seems to be from police department — it isn’t

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Police Department is warning residents to be careful when the phone rings: Their caller ID might be lying.

At least two residents since mid-March have been victimized by caller ID, or number spoofing, scams or by someone who has been able to falsify information to the caller ID function on their phones to obtain money and other personal information, public information officer Keppie Keplinger said Monday.

Spoofing is especially onerous because people let their guards down when, for example, their caller ID shows that the police department is on the other end of the line. Sometimes, it isn’t.

Instead, the number has been cloned by a scammer who wants to get into your wallet, Keplinger said.

“Between that and ‘phishing’ and all that kind of stuff, you can’t be too careful these days,” she said, referring to emails that seem to be sent from companies asking for financial and other personal information that is not actually being sent from those companies.

Keplinger said that in one case that came recently to the department’s attention, the caller ID indicated to a Port Townsend man that the call was from an “Officer Peterson” from the Port Townsend Police Department who talked to the man about money he supposedly owed.

“In this particular instance, the person was saying something about a payday loan,” Keplinger said.

“He’d never done any kind of loan like that.”

The man hung up and reported the call to the police department, where no Officer Peterson is employed — and where an officer would never call a resident and ask for money.

“Our position is if you question the validity of the phone call, hang up the phone and call the number, call the bank or the police department or whatever number shows up” on the caller ID, Keplinger said.

In another instance of spoofing, a Port Townsend woman received a call that seemed legitimate from someone who said her daughter, who did not live at the woman’s home, was in jail in a foreign country and needed bail money.

Keplinger said the woman told a friend, who urged her to contact police, which she did, and found out her daughter was fine.

“She was able to get hold of her daughter,” Keplinger said.

Keplinger said it’s not so obvious that someone would know about a loan or if a relative is in jail, especially if the caller ID seems legitimate.

“That has happened, especially when older people get these calls,” Keplinger said.

“They get easily confused and they don’t know that that might have happened in the past with a spouse.

“All kinds of things go into the mix that can make a nasty situation out of it.”

Scammers, Keplinger added, can get aggressive and intimidating in their language.

Keplinger said it’s difficult to trace the source of spoof calls, which have not spiked upward in recent weeks, although the two most recent ones were enough to prompt a heads-up to the public.

“We mostly want people in Port Townsend and the Peninsula area to know that it happens here, too, and just to be careful what they say,” she said.

“People are good about reporting that kind of thing to us, which is a good thing.”

Anyone who receives what they suspect is a spoof call should call the police department at 360-385-2322 or contact the Federal Communications Commission at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-SpoofCall, where more information about number spoofing is available.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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