STANWOOD — Phony callers are making the rounds again in Snohomish County.
The sheriff’s office has seen more reports of scam calls over the past few weeks, and many went down the same way. Someone impersonating a deputy tried to scare folks by telling them they had an outstanding warrant. The suspect then offered to spare the call-takers an arrest in exchange for preloaded cash cards.
Scammers have found ways to manipulate caller ID, making it appear like the sheriff’s office is calling.
They have claimed to represent other credible organizations, such as the Snohomish County Public Utility District and the IRS.
They use dozens of variations of the same old tricks.
Shirley Monteith, 84, carefully screens her calls, ignoring ones from unfamiliar area codes. But last month, someone with a local number called and she picked up.
An authoritative voice told the Stanwood woman she owed money. If she didn’t pay her debt immediately, “they said the cops will come and pick you up and take you to jail.”
“It would be scary if you believed it,” Monteith said.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said people working for law enforcement agencies never make such calls.
This is not the first time Monteith had dealt with a scam call. Last time, she was congratulated on winning a prize. She decided to press the caller a bit.
“I wanted to get to the bottom of where he was. It wound up he was somewhere in Nigeria,” Monteith said. “He finally gave up when it became obvious that I was on to him.”
A few months ago, Carolyn McNew, 69, received a threatening call from someone who claimed to work with the PUD. The scam artist knew her name and phone number.
He accused the Everett woman of not paying her bill. She was instructed to meet him in front of the PUD office with her payment, otherwise her utilities would be turned off.
McNew hung up and called police. She wasn’t falling for it.
“I may be a little old lady, but I’m tough,” McNew said. “I’ve got guts like a 6-foot linebacker.”
The PUD informed customers of the utility scams, and even outlined different renditions of the scheme going back several years.
Last year, a homeowner was informed her power would be disconnected in 30 minutes unless she called a number provided to her and verified that she owed $1,000. She called and was told if she handed over $800 in cash cards, they would be square.
The PUD reminded customers the district doesn’t collect payments on reloadable cards. Employees also never ask customers for credit card numbers over the phone.
The sheriff’s office has heard similar stories. Scammers instruct people go to a local store and purchase a cash card while still on the line.
“They really terrorize them into staying on the phone,” Ireton said.
People still fall for the scams. When it does happen, they are usually out several hundred dollars, Ireton said.
“There’s very little we can do for enforcement,” Ireton said. “It’s very hard to trace these calls.”
She recommended people hang up if they receive a call from someone asking for money, even if it is a nonprofit. Instead, Ireton suggested making a donation online or contacting the organization directly.
“I would expect that any legitimate business or charity wouldn’t mind if people did that,” Ireton said.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctomp firstname.lastname@example.org.