Cedar Park Police Department’s Financial Crimes Division Sergeant Scott Buchanan and Cedar Park Police Officer Anthony Bridgewater said there has been an increase in phone scams in the area.
Buchanan said one hit recently used the Cedar Park Police Department’s phone number and involved an Internal Revenue Service scam.
“Basically, the victim was told they owed taxes, and if they didn’t pay them, there would be a warrant for their arrest,” he said.
The victim then paid their entire life savings to the perpetrator, a total of $11,000 in Target gift cards.
Buchanan said there were several things that stood out in the case as red flags, and he hopes others will look for these red flags if they encounter a phone scammer.
“One thing that really stood out is that they told the victim not to talk to anyone,” he said. “They said, ‘This is going to happen. Do not talk to anybody. You will be arrested.’”
Even with the passage of House Bill 1992 in the 86th Legislative Session, which would prohibit caller ID spoofing — when callers tamper with information transmitted to people’s caller IDs to disguise their identities — Buchanan said it is difficult to combat phone scammers.
“What I’m going to have to do to even try to find the suspect is I’m going to have to subpoena every single one of these gift cards,” he said. “The gift cards are used to purchase items. They can’t get cash. So, we can find out wherever the items were shipped or delivered. Possibly, that will lead us to the suspect.”
Buchanan said the reason it is so difficult to combat phone scammers is because anybody can spoof anybody’s phone number.
“Our best way to combat this is to push out the information of what to look for and what the scams are to prepare yourself for this stuff.”
Buchanan said 99 percent of the time, especially with the IRS scammers, the perpetrators are from out of the country.
“If it is out of the country, unfortunately, there isn’t very much we can do about it,” he said. “We cannot pursue charges.”
Buchanan said phone scammers are targeting everyone.
“If you haven’t dealt with law enforcement, you won’t know how our processes work,” he said. “Any real entity is not going to ask you to do anything with cards. That should be a huge red flag. If someone is saying they are from the police department and you can’t talk to someone, that should be a huge red flag.”
If the Cedar Park Police Department were reaching out to someone regarding a case, they would ask the individual to come into the office.
“The Cedar Park Police Department is not going to reach out to you with outstanding warrants and say, 'We need you to send gift cards to pay off these warrants,'” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Bridgewater said the biggest preventative measure people can take against phone scammers is to be educated on the scams.
“If you’ve been a victim of a scam, call the police department,” Bridgewater said. “Call all three credit bureaus, and let them know that you’ve been a victim of fraud. Another thing you can do is contact your banks and credit card companies.”
“If they call the police department, we can walk them through the steps they need to take,” Buchanan said.
Bridgewater said another thing a victim can do is call the police department, company, IRS or whatever entity the scammer may be claiming to be, and find out for sure that it is not a scam.
Buchanan said the number one thing an individual can do to protect themselves is to never give out any personal information.
“If they are legitimate, they would already have your information,” he said.