ST. GEORGE — On the morning of Jan. 5, a Washington City woman received a phone call at work from someone claiming to be with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The caller asked if she was aware she had failed to show up for jury duty involving a trial that was scheduled to start Jan. 6.

She was then told she had a warrant for her arrest and that the trial involved a “big case,” said the woman’s husband, who asked that he and his wife remain anonymous for safety reasons.

He told St. George News his wife was then instructed to write down several case numbers alleged to be in connection with the violations she had committed by not showing up for jury duty.

In addition to providing the name of the clerk who would be responsible for accepting the payment, the caller also gave her the names of two sheriff’s deputies, along with the address and phone number of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the woman’s husband said. 

During the process of verifying identifying information, the woman said she told the caller the address they listed was not the one on her driver’s license. The caller responded by saying that was likely the reason she had not received the jury duty notice.

The caller said she would have to post a bail amount of $3,956 to avoid being arrested and said a court hearing would be scheduled later to determine whether the bail would be refunded. He said she would likely get the bail money back since she was not purposefully trying to avoid jury duty. 

“And then he told her they would need the $3,956 right now,” her husband said. 

When his wife told the caller she was at work and unable to leave, the caller said that was fine and would come and arrest her at her place of employment. Since it was Friday afternoon, she was told she would be placed on a 72-hour hold at the jail and would not be able to see a judge until Monday. 

“The threat of being arrested at her job put my wife into a panic since she has never had so much as a speeding ticket,” the husband said.

His wife left work and went to the bank to withdraw the funds while the caller remained on the phone. If she hung up or tried to run, he reportedly said he would find out where she was and have her arrested. 

Stock image | Photo by Diy13/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

While the woman had an uneasy feeling about the call, she was in panic mode, her husband said. Even when she tried to tell the caller that she needed to talk to her husband first, she was repeatedly threatened with arrest. 

At the bank, the woman asked the caller if he wanted the funds in a cashier’s check since those were guaranteed funds. The caller told her the funds would need to be processed through another bank since cashier’s checks were transactions that could be canceled, he said. 

After becoming increasingly uneasy, the woman hung up the phone. 

The man called back immediately and was even more aggressive, telling the woman to “stay where you’re at and we’ll come and arrest you, and you can deal with this on Monday,” the woman’s husband said.   

The caller then instructed her to purchase Green Dot bank cards to pay the bail. When she inquired further, the man told her the cards were sold at several retailers and named two stores nearby. 

“What was scary and weird was that both retailers were less than a mile from where my wife was driving at the time, which only made her more nervous, but it also added credibility to the call,” the husband said. 

When the woman told the caller she had purchased one of the Green Dot cards that would cover part of the payment, he told her she would need to give him the transaction number listed at the top of the card.  

At that point, the woman told the caller that something did not feel right and that she needed to talk to her husband before proceeding any further, which again prompted the caller to threaten her with arrest.

After writing more than 15 sticky notes full of instructions, case numbers and directions from the caller, the woman’s uneasy feeling escalated into a feeling of alarm. 

“Instead of providing the caller with the transaction number,” the husband said, “she hung up on him and called in a near state of panic, so I told her to drive directly to the Sheriff’s Office.” 

What made this particular scam so alarming, the husband said, aside from the caller being so aggressive, was that he had so much information on not only the intended victim but also provided specifics, including case numbers, the names of several deputies, addresses and even location information.  

“This guy really did his homework,” he said.  

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lucas Alfred told St. George News that when the woman came in to inquire about the warrant, she was told it was a scam and advised not to give the caller any money. 

It was right after she came in that Alfred said he received an email advising that the scam had resurfaced, which promoted the Sheriff’s Office to post an alert about the scam on their social media page.

Alfred said the Sheriff’s Office has received similar reports and said in many cases, these scams are not based in the United States but originate from call centers overseas.

And law enforcement is not immune from receiving these types of calls either, including Alfred, who said he received a similar call a while back.

“I was sitting in my office at the Sheriff’s Office with someone telling me on the phone that there’s a warrant out for Washington County for my arrest — from my own department,” he said.

Within the last day or two, Alfred said that one of the deputies in Washington County sent him a text describing a call from a scammer he received earlier that same day. When the caller said they were calling from the St. George Police Department with a warrant out for his arrest, the deputy responded by saying, “Come and get me, boys.” The caller immediately hung up.

Fortunately, Alfred said, the Washington City woman in this case went to the Sheriff’s Office before giving the fraudster any money, a better outcome than what others have experienced.

2023 scam 

St. George News covered a similar scam in February 2023 involving a Washington County resident who received a call from a suspect claiming to be a police officer — a call that set off a series of events that ultimately ended in the parking lot of the LaVerkin Police Department.

2023 file photo of a copy of the fraudulent arrest warrant sent to the reporting party as part of a federal grand jury scam with personal information redacted, St. George, Utah, Feb. 7, 2023 | Submitted photo, St. George News

The woman in the case, who wished to remain anonymous for her safety, told St. George News she was told during the call that she had a warrant for failing to appear in Spanish Fork for federal grand jury selection, and that she needed to pay $1,850 in cash to avoid being arrested.

Upon request, the caller sent the woman a copy of the warrant, which she said she was able to view on her cellphone. She was then instructed to bring the cash to a “bond kiosk,” but the address she was given was not associated with a bail bond kiosk but instead the address of a gas station on State Street in Hurricane.

Then the call took a turn, she said, and the caller’s story and instructions began to change, which is when she decided to drive to the LaVerkin Police Department to confirm the validity of the call.

When she advised the caller of her intentions, he told her she would be arrested as soon as she “stepped foot on the property,” she said, but undaunted, she pulled into the Police Department parking lot just as an officer was getting out of his patrol vehicle.

She put the caller on speaker phone while she spoke to LaVerkin Police Officer Chris Smith, and went over the details of the phone call with the officer listening. The caller identified himself as an employee of the Spanish Fork Police Department, and then he told Smith to detain the woman on the active warrant, which the officer refused to do, which was when the caller hung up.

When the woman called the Spanish Fork Police Department to verify the information, she learned there was no officer by that name employed there, and she also learned there had been several calls to the department reporting similar suspicious activity.

These scams tend to reappear “with a few different twists” to disarm the public, said Lt. Cory Slaymaker, public information officer for the Spanish Fork Police Department, during an interview conducted at the time.

What makes these scams effective is the way they incite a fight or flight response.

“So the victim feels an intense level of fear in the moment,” Slaymaker said. “And it’s only after the fact that they realize they’ve been duped.”

Gift cards for cash scam is a $200 million business 

During the incident on Jan. 5, the woman hung up before giving the suspect the transaction number listed on the card, so there were no monetary losses from the scam. Had she given him the numbers, however, the funds would have been used the same as cash, and like cash, the transaction would have been untraceable and nonrefundable. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately one-fourth of all scam victims reported they were tricked into giving the scammer the numbers on the back of a gift card, and that most gift card scams start with a phone call from someone impersonating a well-known business or government authority.

The FTC also states that victims are often sent to several store locations to make multiple purchases and instructed to stay on the phone – a trick to make sure the intended victim doesn’t call anyone who might help. Scammers even coach people on what to say if a cashier asks questions, the FTC states, because they do not want anyone to stop the scam, including store or bank employees, who are often the only ones who can help.

In 2022, the FTC received 48,800 reports of gift card fraud that cost consumers more than $228 million in total losses.

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