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Beware when you answer the phone

Public safety — Local and state law enforcement agencies report an uptick in phone scammers


Phone scams have become a fact of modern life as unsavory characters try to make a quick buck bilking people of their hard-earned cash. But the phenomenon is on the increase, law enforcement officials say, and they’re determined to educate people on how to avoid being taken.

Locally, the McMinnville Police Department became aware of a scam that involves a phone call from someone purporting to be a supervisor at the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, telling the victim that a judge has fined them for not appearing in court or failing to report for jury duty or grand jury.

The victim, the MPD learned, is then threatened with an arrest warrant before being directed to pay a fine via PayPal or a pre-paid Green Dot credit card. The scammers then ask the victim for the information on the card, including the activation code.

“At no time will law enforcement or court employees call a witness or juror and attempt to get money from them,” said Sheriff Tim Svenson. “This type of scam should be reported to your local police right away and no personal information should be relayed to the caller.”

The scam is far from a local phenomenon, though. Recently, the Oregon State Police has taken reports of people being scammed out of their money by callers posing as law enforcement personnel.

The OSP reiterated Svenson’s words that law enforcement personnel will not seek financial information from citizens over the phone and further warned potential victims to never give personal or financial information to an unsolicited caller or via email, be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason, never wire money or provide debit or credit card numbers to strangers and be reminded that utility companies and government agencies don’t seek payment via Green Dot, Money Pak or Vanilla Reload credit cards.

On occasion, a release from the OSP and the Oregon Judicial Department (OJD) said, courts may use an independent collection service to gather unpaid monetary judgments and fines. However, if someone suspects they are being scammed regarding an alleged unpaid traffic citation or other court-imposed financial obligation, they can:

Ask the caller for information specific to the alleged warrant or unpaid traffic citation. The caller should have the court case number, the date of the ticket and the license number of the vehicle.

Verify the debt or confirm other details by calling the OJD collections hotline at 1-888-564-2828.

Use OJD’s Court ePay to directly pay money owed to state courts for most traffic citations, civil fees or criminal fines. (More information is available at www.courts.oregon.gov/OJD/OnlineServices/ePay/Pages/index.aspx).

Those who receive a call are advised to disconnect without providing personal information or taking instructions from the caller. Then, law enforcement officials hope, the victim will contact them, file a complaint with the OJD Protection Office via its hotline at 1-877-877-9392 or fill out an online consumer complaint form at www.doj.state.or.us/ consumer/Pages/complaint.aspx.

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