Phone scams on the rise in Birmingham

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 28, 2012

BIRMINGHAM — Just hang up.

That’s what police are asking people in Birmingham to do if they pick up the phone and find a stranger demanding money on the other end.

Residents began receiving fraudulent phone calls just over two weeks ago, according to Det. Lt. Carol Millgard of the Birmingham Police Department. She said reports began to trickle in to the station about phone calls during which a man with a foreign accent would claim to be a detective with the New York Police Department. The caller has allegedly told several victims they are involved in a case of civil fraud, and if they don’t send a specified amount of money to the caller, they will be arrested or their credit will be ruined.

While many who have received the calls have not sent money per the caller’s request, one resident fell victim to the scam and sent the caller $200 on a prepaid credit card.

“We just want the residents to be aware this is the most recent scam going on out there and we don’t want them falling for that,” said Millgard.

She added that even more concerning is the fact that the caller is asking victims for their Social Security number and date of birth, which could lead to thefts larger than just a couple hundred dollars.

“Once that’s out there, the sky is the limit for them,” she said.

Cmdr. Terry Kiernan of BPD said that the caller has been elusive, using pay-as-you-go cell phones which can’t be traced back to a user, or “blind” cell phones. And with the perpetrator still at large and reports of the fraudulent calls still being made, there’s no way to know when the scheme will stop.

“There are no leads,” he said. “No police department in the U.S. will call and ask for money for any reason. We don’t know how long it will go on for, as we do not know how they are selecting the people they are calling.”

He added that while the story may be slightly different, the idea behind the calls is basically the same as other methods scammers use to steal money from unsuspecting victims.  A commonly used tactic, Kiernan says, is when a thief calls someone claiming to be a relative or acquaintance traveling abroad who needs money to handle an emergency.

“Get a call-back number and name. If they give you one, then contact family members to see if anyone knows anything about a relative being out of the country and where. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a fraud,” advised Kiernan. “A tip-off for these calls is the caller will give a sense of urgency that if you don’t act now the worst will happen. There is never a sense of urgency to wire money to anyone who you don’t know calling on the telephone.”

Millgard stressed that if anyone receives a suspicious call, do not send money or disclose personal information over the phone. Instead, she advises residents to hang up and report the incident to police.

Anyone with information regarding these calls is asked to contact Millgard at (248) 530-1866.