Bexar sheriff's office warns residents of phone scam

Caller posing as law enforcement, threatens imprisonment

SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County Sheriff's Office is warning residents of a new phone scam circulating in San Antonio.

Victims report receiving a call from someone claiming to be a lieutenant in the sheriff's office. The phone number includes a local 210 area code.

"They will contact a person and tell them they have an outstanding warrant, 'You owe a fine, you need to go to a store, buy a money card and give us that information otherwise you're going to be arrested,'" said sheriff's office spokesman James Keith.

One victim, who did not want to be identified, said the caller knew her name, address, date of birth, and the make and model of her car. She said he told her to purchase three $500 pre-paid debit cards and call back with the card information.

When victims return the call, they receive the following voice message:

"You have reached the warrants division. We are currently unavailable to take your call. Due to a high volume of calls, please leave a detailed message and a number and one of our deputies will return your call as soon as possible."

Keith said the use of outstanding warrants as bait is no accident.

"We do know there was a recent warrant roundup and so that's something that could trigger the crooks to take action," he said.

The fact that the scam artist is using a local number is also a sign that these types of scams are growing more elaborate.

"These people are learning they're wising up and revising their practices, and now we are seeing people getting duped by it," Kieth said. "What's unusual about this is they've stepped up their game. The numbers that they're using are showing up as local numbers even though they may be an ocean away."

Officials at the Better Business Bureau said they've seen scams like this before. The target was college students at West Texas A&M University near Amarillo.

"Someone would call using the police department's phone number and threaten them with jail time if they failed to pay their outstanding student loans," said BBB Communications Manager Jarrod Wise. "Scammers are using technology against people now. It's really hard to figure out if its an actual scam or truly legitimate."

Keith said the best way to protect yourself is to hang up immediately and try to contact the agency the caller claims to be representing.

"We have investigators who are now actively pursuing these (cases) and trying to figure out what connection they have," he said. "With luck, we'll be able to track down the person responsible."