Benton County sheriffs warn of phone scam

BENTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE NEWS RELEASE -- Shortly after noon today the Benton County Sheriff's Office received a call, from an anonymous party, who was very upset with the Sheriff's Office. The reporting party stated around noon today he received a call from someone identifying themselves as a Benton County Sheriff's Office Official. The Official supposedly demanded the reporting party immediately wire $3,000 or his brother would be arrested. The reporting party was advised that the Sheriff's Office would never do something like that and he was the victim of a phone scam.

To date the Sheriff's Office has only received one report of this type of scam, specifically mentioning our office, and we would also like to make sure the public is made aware.

This phone scam is a variation of a scam that has been going around the country for years. It usually targets senior citizens. The typical scam involves a call to the victim claiming to be his or her grandson. They share a believable story of an involvement in an accident or criminal incident in another state or out of the country, where they have been subsequently arrested. The "grandson" asks for money to post bail and then puts a person on the line, supposedly a bail bondsman. The bondsman provides the bail amount, usually several thousand dollars, and requests that money be wired using a MoneyGram or Western Union service. In some cases the bogus "bondsman" has been known to call back to thank the victim.

This type of scam is meant to appeal to the emotions the elderly, who feel an immediate need to help a desperate family member. Stories range from an accident to a situation in which the "grandson" picked up a couple of hitchhikers found with drugs during a traffic stop.

Many suspects use social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, to identify family members through profiles and photos. A check of online phone directories provides a telephone number and the scam is under way. In some cases, suspects find travel plans and give specific family information that makes the scheme more plausible.

These scams are extremely difficult to investigate because suspects usually reside outside the United States and often use cell phones discarded before they can be traced. Any request to wire money should be seen as a red flag, because such transfers are hard to track.