WESTLAKE, Ohio – Telephone scams are not going away any time soon and everyone must be on guard and know what to do if they receive a scammer’s phone call. A doctor/lawyer Westlake couple, Sherri and James Carney, were targeted recently.
Sherri, a busy doctor, received the call at work. The name on the call log was “Sergeant Cummings” who asked for a callback.
When Sherri called back, she was told by the caller a subpoena had been served on her and since she didn’t appear in court, the judge ordered a bench warrant for her arrest.
“This is a courtesy call,” the man said, “because you are a doctor,” according to Sherri’s husband, Jim. “You can come to the police station and sign a paper to compare signatures on the subpoena, but we need a credit card number first to ensure you show up.”
Jim and Sherri both have offices in the same building. Sherri went immediately to talk to Jim who said, “So I got on the phone. (The caller) kept insisting either he gets a credit number, or she would be arrested right away.”
But when Jim said Sherri can’t leave her patients to come to the police station, the caller said, “Then we need you to go to a bank and take out $8,000 and turn it into crypto-currency. Then you can come down to the Westlake police station at your leisure.”
As Jim began to put off the caller because he realized it was a scam, the caller said, “I have to stop this call now. I have spent too much time with you. Either you get the money to postpone her arrest, or we will come and arrest her but then we can return your money.”
Jim said it was clear the money would never be returned no matter what and he and Sherri wanted their story to be told so others would not be taken in by the same, or a similar, scam.
“I hung up on him,” said Jim, “and called the Westlake police and asked for Sergeant Cummings. It turns out (the Westlake police) actually have a Sergeant Cummings even with the same badge number (the caller) had given me.”
The dispatcher at the police station told Jim they have received quite a few calls that a Sergeant Cummings was shaking down citizens. “She assured me they don’t want to arrest my wife and it is not their Sergeant Cummings.”
Westlake Police’s Public Information Officer, Jerry Vogel, spoke about the “warrant” scam as well as others.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “these callers are very good at scaring people, sounding realistic and not taking no for an answer. We tell people you cannot pay for court costs, tax bills, fines, warrants and IT help with gift cards, bitcoin or even Venmo.”
Humorously, he said, “And don’t buy any gift cards unless it’s for your grandchildren for Christmas.”
How should people combat the scams Vogel was asked?
“When you see an unexpected phone call or a popup on your computer,” he said, “that says you need to pay money, tell them you are going to independently find their phone number and check out their story. Then hang up.”
The Sergeant Cummings scam has been happening rather frequently, according to Vogel. “On April 11, several people called using the officer’s name. All were unsolicited calls or emails. We have people who call with possible fraud and scam calls multiple times per week and in different variations such as on Instagram, Facebook Market Place, etc. They might look like legitimate calls but always hang up and find the phone number to call them back. It is not foolproof but it helps.” He added, “And do not take a photo of a gift card or read the number to them over the phone either.”
They also might try to scare a person, Vogel said, “by saying they will come to your house. If so, call the police right away.”
A trend in the past several years has been for police departments to have marked parking spaces in their parking lots for people to conduct online purchases or trades.
“We welcome people to come to our front parking lot,” said Vogel. “It is all covered with video. They can even come into the lobby. We want transactions to be safe. If they don’t want to go to the police department it just may be something fishy.”
Vogel mentioned another recent scam. “They may say you are eligible for a huge grant due to COVID. It is just another variation of a get rich quick scheme.”
Carney added, do not click on email links either and he also noted some relatives were hurt in the past year by a scam-call saying their daughter was hurt and they needed $400 right away to treat her. “Unfortunately, they fell for the scam,” said Jim.