Sheriff’s Office warns of phone scam ‘spoofing’ department’s phone number

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The Colusa County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning on Friday regarding a phone scam that is targeting county residents.

“If you receive a phone call, voicemail, (or) text message from an ‘Officer Jones’ regarding having failed to appear for a federal jury summons, it is a scam,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “The person has managed to make calls from what appear to be the Sheriff’s Office main line, (530) 458-0200. The person is telling those who answer that they have warrants for failing to appear at court for jury duty.” 

According to the Sheriff’s Office’s statement, the scammer asks the target of the phone call or message to pick up and put money on a pre-paid Visa card, specifically, a ‘Vanilla 1’ (or OneVanilla) card, and to provide the card number for the caller to verify the proper amount has been put on the card.

“If you receive any suspicious phone calls, hang up the phone,” the statement said. 

The Sheriff’s Office shared an image showing a transcription of one such voicemail, which appears to have been received from the Sheriff’s Office’s main line. 

After calling their target from what appears to be the Sheriff’s Office’s phone number, the scammer asks the recipient of the voicemail to “contact him back as soon as possible (on my) non-emergency line, which is…” The number listed rings through to an answering machine with the following recorded message:

“Yes, this is Officer Jones at the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office. I’m not available at the moment, so if you can leave your name, a detailed message, and a number, I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.”

Anyone who receives such a message should not return the call to the number listed, nor should they provide any information to the caller.

“If you receive a voicemail or text similar to the one (as described), it can be ignored,” the Sheriff’s Office said in the statement. “No Law Enforcement Agency would handle warrants in such a manner.”

The scammer is able to make it appear he is calling from the Sheriff’s Office through Caller ID spoofing. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website, Caller ID spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to another person’s caller ID display to disguise their identity. 

Spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally, but also can be used legitimately, for example, to display the toll-free number for a business. While there are legitimate uses for spoofing, under the Truth in Caller ID Act, it is illegal for anyone to “transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value.” Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. 

FCC’s Tips to Avoid Spoofing Scams

Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.

If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.

Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes” or “No.”

Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.

If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request.  You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.

Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.

If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.

Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls. Information on available robocall blocking tools is available at ■

Brian Pearson is the former Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects included reporting local government and the sports page.