Police advice on scams: Just hang up the phone

A new scam is afoot, and it involves a man with an Eastern European accent calling and threatening to blackmail residents through their email accounts.

The Ridgefield Police Department has received a half-dozen or so calls from concerned residents over the last couple of weeks and wants the community to know how to handle this latest scam if they’re targeted.

“This works like any other scam,” said Capt. Jeff Kreitz Tuesday, Feb. 21. “Hang up the phone and if they call back, don’t answer.”

A Redding resident called The Press Monday after he received several scam calls while at the Ridgefield Library.

“They called three times and left a voicemail when I stopped answering,” he said. “It’s just a basic shakedown. They said they were capable of hacking my email and ruining my reputation if I didn’t pay their ransom fee.”

The Redding man, who reported the incident to Ridgefield police, told The Press that the caller didn’t give an exact ransom fee but that he knew from experience how costly it can be.

He said that last month he lost a few hundred dollars when a prank caller had requested his bank account number.

“I went along with it,” he said. “If people are stupid enough, then they will come back. The key is to refuse to give them anything.”

Kreitz agrees.

He also said that residents aren’t the only demographic being affected.

“We’ve had officers receive these types of calls,” Kreitz said. “They will call anyone.

“It’s important to remember that scammers are professionals — they’re good at what they do,” he said. “They will try to capitalize on anything they can. If they’re successful and get $1,000 or $2,000, then of course they’ll keep doing it. …

“Their job for the day is to scam you.”

The threatening blackmail call is one of several email-type scams going around the country, police said.

Some aren’t as aggressive.

“We’ve received reports of ones where the scammers claim they can make your email safer, and they want to be paid for that,” Kreitz said.

Others include a man pretending to be an information technology specialist asking for remote access to a resident’s computer; another involves corrupted emails from banks or insurance companies that appear to be official but are in fact compromised.

Scams are fundamentally the same, Kreitz said.

“Whenever you hear ‘Give us your credit card’ or ‘Wire us money,’ then you know that’s a scam,” he said. “Don’t give any information to anybody unless you’re the one who initiates contact. …

“A good rule of thumb is to never give out personal information over the phone, and don’t give it through email.”

Especially when the caller on the other end of the phone is making false threats.

“They’re very convincing because they’re threatening,” Kreitz said. “They’re pretending to be an authority figure — a public official of some capacity — and they’re very demanding. Some even pretend to be cops.”

Local numbers

What confuses a lot of residents is when a “203” appears on their cell phones, Kreitz said.

He warns the community that those digits are just being spoofed.

“They have the technology now to convert their phone numbers to appear like a local call.”

That’s how they appeared to the Redding resident who reported the scam call he received to the cops and The Press earlier this week.

“This time I was prepared for it,” he said. “I told them, ‘This is a scam,’ and hung up.”

Kreitz said that scam education has made positive strides over the last two or three years, but that it’s important to remind residents to hang up the phone and not answer if the number calls back.

“Hang up before they even start talking,” he said. “They’ll use facts to try and convince you it’s real — it’s not.”

He said that people of all ages have been targeted, and that the entire community should be made aware.

“People realize it more,” he said. “We get reports from residents who receive calls from all over the country. It’s very common now.”

Solicitation

One final scam police want residents to be cautious of doesn’t involve computers or emails; rather, it involves illegal solicitation from people pretending to be cops.

“We don’t solicit for funds and we would never call asking for money,” said Kreitz. “Our union and the Police Benevolent Association sends out a mailer, and that’s it.”