published Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Phone scammers impersonating McMinn County sheriff

IF SCAMMERS CALL YOU

Anyone receiving a suspicious call claiming to be from the sheriff's office about a court fine payment should report the call to 911. If money has already been taken, the victim should contact the local law enforcement agency in the community where they live. Anyone with information about the perpetrators of the scam is asked to call the McMinn County Sheriff's Office at 423-745-5620.

People in McMinn County, Tenn., are the targets of a scam being perpetrated in the name of the county's judicial officials, and some victims have lost $500 to $1,000.

Sheriff Joe Guy says the scammers are calling people, especially elderly residents, claiming to be "Sheriff Joe Guy" and telling them they have missed court dates or have court dates upcoming involving a "hefty fine."

The scammers tell their potential victims they can "take care of it over the phone" by making a payment with a prepaid credit card or debit card.

"It's a new spin on an old scam, except the person claiming to be me makes threats of arrest if the fine is not paid, and even uses the names of local judges," he said. "And the calls come from a local number to make the scam more believable."

The sheriff's office does not collect fines, over the phone or otherwise, does not threaten to arrest anyone for not paying a fine and does not ask for fines to be paid with a prepaid credit card, the sheriff said.

"We think somebody's cloning phone numbers," Guy said Tuesday. He said the scammers "seem to know a lot of local elected officials."

A fake callback number is given that has a voice message saying the caller has reached the McMinn County Sheriff's Office, adding authenticity to the scam.

Local investigators are collecting information on the calls and relaying it to the district attorney's office. If out-of-state links are made to the scammers, Guy said, the case could get federal investigators interested, as well.

Steve Crump, the 10th Judicial District attorney general, said the scam is limited to McMinn for now, but he's watching for problems in the district's other counties of Bradley, Polk and Monroe.

"I filed a request for the TBI to become involved in the case to help us identify and track the individual or individuals responsible," he said.

Anyone suspicious of a call about court fines should note the phone number the call is coming from and get as much identifying information about the caller as possible, Crump said.

"We encourage the public to help us here because they're really helping their neighbors," he said.

Guy said local retail stores also are being requested to ask customers purchasing a prepaid credit card if they're using it to pay a fine in court and, if so, informing that customer of the scam.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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