Southwest Florida woman nearly falls victim to caller ID scam

CREATED Dec. 18, 2013

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LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- A Southwest Florida woman is warning others about a caller ID scam to which she almost fell victim.  A man called her impersonating a Lee County Sheriff's Office deputy and told her if she didn't follow his instructions, a warrant would be placed for her arrest.

Ginger Smith said her phone rang and the caller ID displayed the name Lee County Government and the phone number of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (239-477-1000).

The person on the line stated “there was a federal judgment against her and she needed to call Officer Tom O’Brien at 347-828-8460, right away.” When Smith called the number, the phone was answered, “Federal Investigations, how do I direct your call?” She asked for Officer O’Brien and was then connected to a man who told her she was under investigation and if she did not pay a fine immediately, a warrant would be issued for her arrest.

"I'm thinking I'm going to jail for like tax evasion or something, I was going absolutely crazy," Smith said. 

The man knew Smith's social security number, birth date, and the name of her financial institution; as well as private information known only to a handful of people. Fortunately, Smith refused to go along with the scam, hung up the phone and called the Sheriff’s Office.

"Unfortunately in the past, we've always relied on our caller ID to tell us who's calling and then we can choose whether or not to answer, but anymore unfortunately we just don't know," said Beth Schell, fraud specialist with Lee County Sheriff's Office.

In this scam, the con-artist made use of certain applications or special internet-based caller ID spoofing service providers, that deliberately falsifies or masks the name and/or telephone number they are calling from and instead, enters the phone number he wants to masquerade as calling from.  Tech experts say by using a voice-over IP, or an internet-based phone system (like Google Voice), anyone can create their outgoing caller ID name and number display. 

"It's ridiculously easy... you basically set what your outgoing caller ID is when you set up your digital phone system. If you have a voice over IP phone system, you can just log into your portal and set what your own outgoing name is, you can be anybody very easily," said David Seitz with Greenwire IT in Cape Coral. 

In this particular case, the Sheriff’s Office phone number was chosen by the caller to trick the victim into thinking the call was actually coming from a legitimate government agency, though Schell said a call like that would never happen.

"Just know that the Sheriff's Office is never going to ask you for personal information such as that and then threaten you with arrest as well," she said.

If you have questions about this Fraud Alert, or if you have received a call and would like to report it, please contact the Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line at 258-3292.