Montgomery County residents have lost $1.5M to scammers since June

Scammers pretending to be law enforcement have collected $1.5M since June

About 20 county residents gave money, police say; one lost more than $200K

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About 20 Montgomery County residents have lost a total of $1.5 million to telephone scammers pretending to be law enforcement officials, police said.

Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, said each of the approximately 20 victims in the county gave different amounts of money to the scammers. The lowest amount was $800. The most that one victim gave away was more than $200,000.

Police wrote in a press release on Wednesday that since June, detectives have been investigating multiple reports of scammers calling or texting county residents. The callers pretend to be local or federal authorities. They sometimes include a message to recipients falsely claiming there is an outstanding warrant for their arrest, police said.

The scammers have also told the victims that if they pay a fine, get gift cards from stores or buy the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and provide the scammer with the codes, the victims can “clear their names,” police said.

“During the call, the scammer would stress that payment was needed immediately and that due to the secret nature of the investigation, the victim could not tell anyone, or he/she would be arrested,” police wrote in a press release.

An audio sample of a scammer that police provided on Wednesday features a recorded message stating that the victim will be served a warrant the next day between 3 and 5 p.m., and that if they don’t sign the warrant, they will be served at their local sheriff’s department.

“If you fail to appear at the sheriff’s department, this case will be prosecuted without you and your benefits will be suspended,” the message states.

Innocenti told Bethesda Beat on Friday that scammers pretending to be law enforcement officials is a national problem, and isn’t new, but county police have recently seen an increase in victims.

She wasn’t sure when the increase started because the scams can go unreported to police.

“We recognize that some people receive the call, hang up and don’t report it, and [there are] others who don’t report it after they realize it’s a scam,” she said.

The goal of the scammers, Innocenti emphasized, is both to get money from the victims and to intimidate them.

“They all create this sense of stress and urgency and hope that you don’t take the time to investigate anything,” she said.

Police said in the press release on Wednesday that no officer will ever:

  • Ask residents for their credit card information
  • Ask them to wire or send money on a prepaid card
  • Tell a resident they can pay a fine by phone, text, mail or delivery service

Police are asking anyone who might have received a scam call to call them at 301-279-8000.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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