Police warn residents of ‘rampant’ phone scam

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published September 21, 2022


METRO DETROIT — Police in the metro Detroit area are warning residents to be wary of an uptick in phone scams, where callers impersonate local police and demand money.

In Bloomfield Township, one resident was reportedly swindled out of $500 via the scam.

According to reports, the 45-year-old resident received several phone calls over a two-hour span on Aug. 29 from an individual claiming to be a deputy with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

Police said the phone numbers were “cloned” on caller ID to look like Oakland County numbers.

“There are several apps out there that allow people to call somebody and the phone number on the caller ID will appear to be a legitimate number,” said Officer Nick Soley, of the Bloomfield Township Police Department.

In this case, the impersonator claimed that the resident had failed to appear for jury duty and was charged with contempt of court and needed to pay $1,500 to clear the charges.

The Bloomfield Township resident attempted to settle the case by sending the impersonator $500 via the online banking application Zelle. The resident offered to meet the impersonator at the Police Department to settle the rest of the debt, and the impersonator immediately ceased contact with the resident.

“We’ve been dealing with scam cases like this, probably, really heavily for the last five years,” said Soley. “This particular one is not a huge amount of money or a giant case, but it is so rampant right now.”

In Rochester, Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm is also reporting an increase in phone scam activity.

“We just had a call from somebody who reported a spoofed caller ID that showed it was the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office calling them and that they had a warrant for their arrest because they didn’t show up for jury duty, so it does happen from time to time,” Schettenhelm said.

Fortunately, in this instance, Schettenhelm said the resident did not send the caller money. Instead, the resident hung up the phone right away to report the incident to police.

“The scammers certainly make it difficult because they are very high-pressure calls. And now, with technology, they can spoof the number, so on your phone it looks like it is coming from a legitimate source,” he said. “The best course of action is to try to nip the call off as quickly as possible and indicate that you will contact your own local police department to follow up.”

Police said no legitimate law enforcement agency will contact someone by telephone to settle a fine or take care of a warrant.

“We’re not going to ask you for any money over the phone,” Soley added.

People with questions about the legitimacy of a call are urged to immediately hang up and call their local police department’s nonemergency number for verification.

“If they start to get aggressive, or you start to worry that it may be a scam, find out where they are calling from, hang up, look up a legitimate number for the agency and get ahold of someone to see if they are in fact looking for that,” Soley said.

Similar scams occur “quite often” with people impersonating law enforcement agencies, the IRS, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to Soley.

“What they will do is they will spoof a number that comes back to a legitimate law enforcement agency, and their whole MO is to use scare tactics to try and get you to pay,” he said.

Schettenhelm said it’s hard to figure out the cycle.

“They seem to go in a pattern where we may get them quite frequently, as many as two or three a day, and then we won’t get them for a week or so, but in the course of a month it’s not uncommon to have a couple a week that come in, or more,” he said. “Most people are calling us to check the details out or let us know that they had the call and have not been scammed, but occasionally we do get people that will send money or gift cards in, and obviously realize too late that they are in too deep and will call us and try to get out.”

Anyone with information relating to the case can contact the Bloomfield Township police at (248) 433-7755. Those who experienced a similar scam can also call the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 or file a complaint online.