Friday, July 12, 2024

Fraudsters Spoofing Familiar Voices in Scams

Anyone asking you to make a financial transaction over the phone using gift cards should be a red flag, said Blairstown Police Chief Scott Johnsen.

Convincing impersonations

Johnsen said several instances of telephone and text scams have been reported in the past couple of weeks. The scammers have impersonated people the intended victims know. The callers have mimicked people’s bosses and even church pastors.

“They’re very convincing,” Johnsen said. “With just a small sample, the scammers can use a computer to impersonate the voice of somebody you know.”

The caller or the person texting, while claiming to be an acquaintance, will ask the mark to go to a store and purchases gift cards that will help the spoofed voices get out of some sort of jam.

Not new, but more sophisticated

The warning sign is when they ask you to send them photos of the front and back of the gift cards. This allows the scammer to empty the amount the victim just spent on the cards into their own accounts, leaving the victim without the funds.

Johnsen said the scam itself is nothing new. But they have grown in sophistication.

“They can copy just a few words of somebody’s voice from Facebook or Instagram and create a conversation in that voice,” Johnsen said.

In addition, the scammers have improved their abilities to mimic the email signatures of friends and relatives of potential victims as well as spoof the phone numbers that the mark would see on caller ID.

Johnsen emphasized that anything that begins with a suspect phone call is likely a scam but he also said he understands that people can become vulnerable targets when they believe a friend or relative could be in distress and needs help. Victims often don’t report the thefts out of embarrassment.

A frequent misconception that sometimes leads to people not reporting a fraud, Johnsen said, is that the scammers operate overseas and are out of the reach of law enforcement. While that is true in some cases, many frauds are perpetuated right here in the United States.

Last February, the Blairstown police were able to intervene in a scam that almost cost a local resident tens of thousands of dollars. He had sent a check and then had second thoughts and contacted police. Blairstown officers, working with their counterparts in California, were able to track down the check and get it back before in landed in the hands of the scammers.

Don’t hesitate to call the authorities

Johnsen said people should never, ever, be reluctant to call the police. No person or business acting legitimately would ever warn someone to not call the police. Johnsen emphasized that there is no concern or suspicion too small to call the police about. And you should never feel hesitant or embarrassed to call the police. Anybody can fall for a scam under the right circumstances.

Earlier this year, a financial advice columnist went public to offer such a warning and how she was persuaded to hand over a box containing $50,000 in cash to a stranger in a car.

Journalist Charlotte Cowles described in detail in The New Yorker magazine how she was taken in by an elaborate scam that used fear, technology and her own personal information—including the name of her child—to convince her it was real. It can happen to anyone.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.