My experience with identity-theft scammers threatening arrest warrants
Sacramento County experts advise on, discuss crime, scams and fraud
There’s a warrant out for my arrest, apparently.
I learned of this on August 1, while sitting in a work meeting. My cellphone vibrated, the number was “blocked,” but the caller left a voicemail: It was Vivian Ford with United Paralegal Services, which is the name of an actual company with offices nationwide. She was calling about fraudulent checks I’d allegedly written with Tri Counties Bank, also an actual business based out of Sacramento.
Ford said that if I didn’t call attorney Jennifer Sharpe back immediately, at (855) 301-5254, her company would “enter a guilty plea” and “put out a warrant for my arrest.” She even had a court case number, 363880.
It was a scam, for sure (case numbers aren’t six digits, for starters). But a clever one; I imagine people regularly fall for swindles like this.
I didn’t think much about the arrest-warrant threat until later that day, however, when my girlfriend rang. She sounded worried. “I just got this call from some attorney stating that there’s a warrant out for your arrest,” she told me.
This was disconcerting: I live with my girlfriend, sure, but we don’t share any credit cards, and all the bills are under my name. How did these scammers get her number, and how did they link her to me?
A spokeswoman with Sacramento County’s identity-theft division, however, said she hadn’t heard of such a scheme. A quick online search for “arrest warrant scam” showed similar incidents in the past, though.
Meanwhile, this arrest-warrant scam kept branching out through my family tree. On August 5, my brother emailed: “A paralegal called this morning. They called my number thinking it was you. Vivian Ford of United Paralegal Services. Says you need to call 855-301-5254, attorney Sharpe, to clear up some information or they are going to process a guilty plea and create a warrant.”
Impressive—now my younger brother was in on the circle of scam.
The city of Sacramento’s tips for preventing identify theft seem like common sense. It advises not to give out important information, such as credit-card numbers over the phone, unless you initiated the call. And, if you have the misfortune of someone stealing your identity, you should file a complain with the Federal Trade Commission, the city police department and enter your name into the California Identity Theft Registry.
On August 6, attorney Sharpe finally called me directly.
“Hi, is this Nicholas Miller?” she asked.
“Is this Nicholas Miller born in 1978?” she continued.
“Oh, I can’t remember. Who’s calling?”
“This is attorney Jennifer Sharpe—”
“Oh!” I interrupted. “I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.”
Sharpe wasn’t as enthusiastic. I asked her where she lived, and if she was an actual attorney, and if we could be friends on Facebook. But Sharpe wouldn’t respond. She actually grew hostile, aggravated, and then hung up.
So, I did what any potential scam victim might do: I called her back.
“Hi, is this attorney Sharpe?”
“No, it’s not.” It was obviously her.
“We just talked a few seconds ago. You just called me. How ya doin’?”
“Um,” she paused. “I didn’t talk to you a few minutes ago.”
Our conversation didn’t deviate from this charade, and after 46 seconds, she’d had enough.
So, I called her again. And again. And again.
Which, according to Sacramento County’s Hi-Tech Crimes identity-theft division, maybe isn’t that bad of an idea. When I called the line for advice last Tuesday, a woman advised that if you keep receiving harassing calls, you might consider buying a whistle and blowing it into the phone when they call next.
She also recommended signing up for a fraud-alert program with a company like Equifax, just in case. This way, if there is a hiccup with your credit, the program will alert you immediately (I did sign up, and my credit is still secure).
As for attorney Jennifer Sharpe and her team: They stopped answering calls from my number. But, before they hung up on me one final time, I heard someone whispering in the background:
“It’s that guy again.”