How a WTOP reporter almost got swindled by a scammer over the phone

Scam phone calls have become more prevalent and in some cases more convincing these days as thieves try to steal victims’ money and personal or financial information.

Montgomery County Police say among the most common scams are phone calls in which the caller impersonates law enforcement or a government agency threatening the victim with arrest or fines unless they pay a fee.

WTOP traffic and sports reporter Steve Dresner said the phone call that he received Monday morning nearly fooled him.

“This was as real as it gets. He said he was from law enforcement. I even heard police radios in the background,” Dresner said. “And he simply said that we have two jury violations in your name, you need to come to Germantown to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and clear this up for a fee of just over $1,000 and he named invoice numbers and a juror number.”

“The person who called actually identified himself as a lieutenant from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department,” said Dresner.

Montgomery County Police said they received multiple complaints from residents who had received similar phone calls. Police said people should know, first and foremost, that law enforcement will never call to ask for money.

Police advise that other signs of phone scams are that callers go to great lengths to keep you on the phone. The caller makes the matter seem extremely urgent. They will sometimes say that someone will pick up the money or direct the victim to mail the money or deposit it into an unknown bank account or cash-sharing app. Sometimes, victims are asked to buy Bitcoin or gift cards as untraceable payment methods.

Dresner said he was surprised at how convincing the scammer sounded, referring to senior officers, supervisors and the importance of settling the fines that had been assigned to his property address.

“The person had my name, address and phone number, [and] knew I … lived in Montgomery County,” said Dresner.

To prevent scam phone calls, Montgomery County Police recommend using call-blocking apps to screen and block unwanted calls. They also advise to never share personal or financial information in unsolicited phone calls.

Although Dresner held onto his money, Montgomery County Police said scams like this can lead to significant financial losses and compromise a victim’s personal information.

While any phone call purporting to be from police asking for money is a scam, anyone unsure of whether they are talking to a real police officer on the phone can always ask the officer for their ID number and then call the police nonemergency number to verify the call.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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