August 19, 2022

A new twist sends officers to victims’ doors, giving impression the fraud is legitimate

Fraudsters use police welfare checks to intimidate victims, gather personal information

By Tom Miller

Iowa Attorney General

Fraudsters are clever. And that’s not a good thing.

Over the years, scammers have employed no shortage of tricks or traps to get what they want from consumers, whether that’s money or personal information. One long-used scam involves intimidating potential victims with threats of lawsuits or arrest unless they hand over hefty payments.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division recently learned of a new ploy that schemers are using to further threaten victims.

Intimidating Victims

The potential scams begin like many others: A fraudster contacts a potential victim claiming they owe a debt or fine. If the victim doesn’t pay immediately, they could face arrest.

While these threats are untrue, the latest twist used by scammers involves calling law enforcement and requesting a welfare check at the address of the victim. The appearance of an officer then gives the victim the impression the threats of arrest are legitimate, and they should pay the debt or fine to avoid such a fate.

A similar fraudulent situation was recently shared by law enforcement officials in Virginia. In that case, an individual contacted dispatch for a welfare check on an older resident. The caller claimed to be a nephew of the resident.

When the officer arrived, the resident had no idea who the caller was. When the officer contacted the caller to inform them the resident was fine, the individual began asking questions about the resident.

The officer felt uneasy about the situation. He contacted the resident again, and she eventually revealed she was a victim of a variety of scams from offenders who had been contacting her on the phone.

Gathering Information

The previous example shows how the scheme could be used as a way for scammers to gain more information about victims. A law enforcement officer could inadvertently provide personal information about the victim to a scammer following a welfare check.

It’s not just law enforcement who are being used as a pawn to scammers. A scammer in Virginia recently attempted to gain access to a victim through an unsuspecting pizza delivery driver.

In this case, the older resident was the previous victim of a “Publishers Clearing House” scam. The man’s family prevented him from sending more money to the scammer and changed his phone number, cutting off the scammer’s contact. The fraudster began looking for a new way to make contact and ordered pizza to be delivered to the victim’s address.

A note on the order asked the delivery driver to call the ordering party — the scammer — on arrival. When the delivery driver did just that, the caller requested to speak with the victim. Realizing something was amiss, the driver did not allow the scammer to speak to the victim.

Although the AG’s Office has not yet received calls about law enforcement being used in scams, we have seen food delivery drivers being used to deliver messages on behalf of scammers in the past. If you or someone you know is contacted by law enforcement, government officials, delivery drivers, or others as part of a scam, please notify the AG’s Office.

Be prepared

The AG’s office urges consumers to be vigilant about potential scams and warn their loved ones of these changing frauds.

Share the following tips:

  • Set the privacy settings on your social media accounts. This allows only people you know to access your posts and photos. Scammers search Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks for information they can use to fool you.
  • Verify the person’s identity. If someone claims to know you personally, ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
  • Don’t panic. No matter how dire the predicament sounds, do not panic. Scam artists want to get you upset to distract you from spotting the ruse.
  • Resist the urge to act quickly or secretly. In a situation where someone is asking for money right now using fear, excitement, or sympathy, you can assume it’s a scam until proven otherwise.
  • Contact a trusted resource. Call a genuine phone number for the company, organization or person contacting you to check out the story even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Report the scam to local law enforcement authorities. Scammers attack several residents and communities, so get assistance for yourself and help others avoid scam efforts.
  • Don’t answer the door unless you know and trust the visitor.
  • Don’t send money. Don’t give out personal information or cash, wire money, or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
  • Talk to others and seek our resources. Try to keep up-to-date on what is happening in your community. Talk with neighbors and local law enforcement to learn what scams are happening in your areas. Share that information with your friends and family members. You can also contact the AG’s office and we will talk it through.
  • File a complaint. In addition to notifying local law enforcement authorities, you can report scam calls to the Federal Trade Commission, as well as to the Attorney General’s Office.

If you have been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer@ag.iowa.gov or 515-281-5926 in Des Moines area or 888-777-4590 outside the metro area.

You can also report these fraudulent schemes to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.