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State Police warn of scammer impersonating a trooper and demanding payment

WHSV file image of Virginia State Police
WHSV file image of Virginia State Police(WHSV)
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 11:38 AM EDT
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Virginia State Police are warning people in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley about a scam call they say has been circulating a lot this week.

According to police, they've been called by "numerous residents" this week about threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be a sergeant with the Virginia State Police.

In two of the calls, victims of the scam bought gift cards to transfer money to the caller, losing a total of $1,200.

Police are investigating those incidents in particular.

They also say the scammer is specifically targeting people listed on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry.

According to the reports that police have gotten, the caller generally identifies himself as "Sergeant Yates of the Virginia State Police" and proceeds to tell the person that either there are arrest warrants on file for them or that he will remove their DNA from the Virginia Sex Offender Registry if they provide payment.

Neither of those claims are true, but regardless of the story he tells, the next step, as is typical in phone scams, is that he says gift cards must be purchased and sent to him to either prevent arrest or to have DNA removed from the sex offender registry.

Here's the thing. Virginia State Police will never call you to notify you about an arrest warrant. Nor will they remove someone's DNA or any information from the Sex Offender Registry, much less for payment.

And no law enforcement agency or any legitimate caller will ever demand payment from you over the phone or through gift cards. State Police say no one should ever send gift cards to anyone calling and threatening arrest, saying that a family member has been abducted, or suggesting a bribe.

Generally, scammers are aggressive and relentless, meaning they may call repeatedly in the same day or week to try to convince you they're telling the truth and must be paid.

Troopers say your best move is to just hang up every time or not answer to begin with. Don't give any personal information to the individual.

You can report scams to the FCC at

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A classic phone scam

The scam goes like this.

You get a phone call, and the caller claims to be with your local sheriff's office, police department, or state police, telling you that they have a warrant for your arrest.

It's usually for a reason that your first instinct may be to wonder if you missed something important, like telling you you missed jury duty or failed to answer a subpoena.

Sometimes they may identify themselves as a randomly chosen position and name, whether or not the agency they say they're with employs anyone by that name. Other times, they've done research and claim to be someone actually with the agency.

The number that shows up on your phone could be a number 'spoofed' to look like it's coming from your area code, or it could even be made to look like it's coming from the law enforcement agency itself.

Once you're told that there's a warrant out for you, the caller lets you know you'll only be arrested if you don't pay a certain amount.

A lot of scammers in these kinds of calls may even pretend to transfer you to the "Sheriff," who is really someone else or the same person carrying out the scam, but the calls always end the same way.

The caller will instruct you to purchase some kind of gift card – usually either a green dot card (a kind of prepaid credit card) or a VISA card in very specific amounts – and then call them back with the numbers or mail the cards and receipts to provide payment.

If you go through with providing the numbers for payment, they may also ask you to bring the card to the Sheriff's Office for verification, but by the time you'd make it there, the money will be gone.

It's extremely difficult to refund money that's added to such gift cards, which is why that's almost always the request from scammers.

This is a classic phone scam that comes in many varieties: people

,

,

, and often

.

But no law enforcement agency will never call you to ask you to provide finances of any sort to them under the threat of arrest. If you're ever unsure about the legitimacy of a call from someone claiming to be law enforcement, hang up and then call your local law enforcement agency directly.

Do not buy a credit card in response to the call and do not provide any information.

The Winchester Police Department offers the below tips to help avoid falling victim to a telephone scam:

• Be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payments.

• Never give out personal or financial information to unsolicited callers, including: account numbers, social security numbers, passwords or other identifying information.

• Never wire money, provide debt or credit card numbers or Green Dot MoneyPak card numbers to someone you do not know.

• If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement or agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.

• Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t know. With spoofing becoming more common, question the number on the caller ID. Be cautious and verify the person on the other end of the phone.

• Don’t be afraid to tell the caller you need time to think about your decision. Talk with a trusted friend, family member, or call your department.

You can learn more about scams affecting our area

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