An alarming telephone scam involves a person claiming to be from the DEA who calls and tells unsuspecting victims they have an arrest warrant. The victim is then told they must pay a fine to avoid jail time.
It’s a scam.
Often these scammers will call repeatedly from a spoofed phone number, and will employ a number of scare tactics, even threatening violence. A common ploy is to call and claim that the DEA has “intercepted” a package containing pharmaceuticals ordered over the phone or internet, or that they are “investigating” past purchases online. They will use ominous terms such as “arrest warrant” or “federal charges.”
At some point they will instruct the victim to pay a “fine” in lieu of jail time. This is where the scam becomes apparent, as they will demand this payment to be sent overseas, such as to the Dominican Republic. They will ask for this “fine” to be sent via bank wire or pre-paid credit card.
As obvious as this scam sounds, those receiving these calls are often too distracted by the shock and fear of the phone call to realize it’s a scam, despite the fact that these scammers often speak in broken English. Logic doesn’t always overcome fear, however, and this is exactly what the scammers are counting on. If they call enough people, they know they’ll eventually find someone they scare enough who will comply and pay the “fine.”
The DEA has addressed this scam directly. They point out that they do not contact people by telephone, nor do they ever demand any sort of payment or fine.
How did scammers get my info?
An unsettling factor in this scam is that these callers often have personal information such as social security numbers or bank account info. The scammers try to use this information to convince the victim that this is a legitimate call, a tactic which sometimes works. While it isn’t clear how scammers gain access to such personal information, it appears likely that in many cases it may have been obtained from online loans or cash advance websites. The scammers may even run their own fake cash advance sites in order to receive information directly from the victims.
Harassing Friends or Employers
The scammers sometimes harass more than just the victim. They may also call the victim’s place of work, family members, or friends. If you begin receiving these calls, you may want to warn your employer before they get similar harassing calls.
What to do if you are called
- Notify your bank
- Notify the three major credit bureaus
- File a complaint at ic3.gov or use this form.
- Notify the DEA at 877-792-2873
- Try blocking their number (although they may call from other numbers)
- Do not answer future calls
- Do not contact them
- Do not send them money or give them any information
- Contact the police if you feel you are in immediate danger
The tactics employed by these scammers are not used by legitimate agencies. Do not send money over the phone to someone who calls you. If you feel you may owe money to a particular agency, call them at their published, public phone number. If you have received one of these calls, follow the steps listed above.
Have you been contacted by these scammers? What did they say, how much did they request, and how did you handle it? Do you feel authorities doing enough to prevent this crime?
- DEA – DEA Warns Public of Extortion Scam by DEA Special Agent Impersonators
- WAFF – Beware of apparent telephone hoax (3/26/2013)