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Some Hamilton County residents have been getting calls from scammers using county officials' names telling them they are behind on their taxes and they need to pay up or go to jail. But that is not how things work, officials said.

"We make phone calls out of my office, but it's never that we're going to come and arrest you," Bill Hullander, county trustee, said Monday during a news conference. "We're only calling as a courtesy call to let you know that this is being turned over [to collections]."

Authorities will not call people demanding a payment or threatening jail time, he said. Business is typically done through mailed letters.

"We will never forewarn someone that we have a warrant on them, that we're coming to arrest you," Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said.

Another common tactic is to tell people they've missed jury duty and have to pay a fine to avoid jail time, Hammond said. That also is not how things work.

"You will get a letter," he said. "And, eventually, if the judge wanted to make a point, he will send the sheriff out to see you, but none of these things are going to demand that you make a payment right away to avoid jail."

One of the most common methods scammers use to collect money is to ask the victim to purchase a Green Dot reloadable card and to give them the number associated with the card. The scammer will then drain the funds from the card.

"Green Dot ought to set off in anybody's mind a little bell that says, 'I better check this out further,'" Hammond said.

Scams aren't new, but the way in which people are targeted is getting more and more sophisticated.

"They're using local numbers," Hullander said, adding that scammers call several people at a time and wait for a call back. Spoofing local numbers makes it more likely for someone to pick up or call back.

Scammers fake their numbers by using a Voice Over IP system, sheriff's office spokesman Matt Lea said

"Those are very difficult to trace, even if you have the powers of the NSA in some cases," he said.

In 2017, the sheriff's office received more than 100 reports of fraud, some of which used detectives' names and the sheriff's name.

But arrests are rare because it's so difficult to trace back to a suspect.

"Most of the time, that call is coming from overseas, going through some sophisticated [systems] to make it look like it's [local]," Hammond said.

If caught, however, anyone spoofing phone numbers with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value faces penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation under the Truth in Caller ID Act, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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