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Scammers impersonate local law enforcement on the phone

Frederick County sheriff's deputies are among the local law enforcement officers who have been impersonated in phone scams in recent years.
Iian Watson
/
Flickr
Frederick County sheriff's deputies are among the local law enforcement officers who have been impersonated in phone scams in recent years.

Phone scammers have been impersonating law enforcement officers across the country in recent years – including in our area. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Lieutenant Warren Gosnell with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office recently sent me a recorded voicemail message.

VOICEMAIL MESSAGE: This is Lieutenant Warren Gosnell. Sorry I missed your call, however …

The problem is, that's not Gosnell – it's a scammer who was trying to extort money from local residents. The real Gosnell told me they've been dealing with these imposter scams for a few years – as has the whole country. Agencies in Albemarle and Augusta County have previously sent out press releases about the scams. Frederick County is seeing a resurgence – about 10 incidents were reported in recent weeks.

The real Warren Gosnell is the traffic safety coordinator and public information officer for the sheriff's department.
Frederick County Sheriff's Office
The real Warren Gosnell is the traffic safety coordinator and public information officer for the sheriff's department.

WARREN GOSNELL: They'll claim that you have a warrant out. You missed jury duty. You have an outstanding ticket. Anything with a legal nature that some people may find easy to believe that could have happened to them. … They go right from there talking about, "here's what we can do to work this out."

The scammers then tell the victim they can avoid arrest by purchasing a gift card or prepaid card and relaying the card information over the phone. That way the scammer gets the funds through an untraceable, remote transaction. Adding to their disguise – some scammers have been able to "spoof" the sheriff's department's phone number.

GOSNELL: The moment they want any type of payment, no matter how … to avoid incarceration, avoid arrest, or to settle a situation through a law enforcement agency, hang up. If you want to reassure yourself at that point, call the non-emergency number for the agency.

And don't hit redial, either – or you might end up on the fake officer's voicemail. Look up the sheriff or police department's number online and dial it yourself.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.