Posted September 18, 2017
If you get a call from what seems to be the River Falls Police Department and the caller asks you to pay a fine, you’re being scammed, a RFPD investigator says.
On one day alone last week, six UWRF students complained to police about the phone scam, joining a long list of River Falls complainants.
Unlike other phone scams, this one is especially deceiving because caller ID reveals that the call is coming from the same phone number as the RFPD.
“People will hang up because they think it’s a scam,” Investigator Jennifer Knutson said, “but then they call the number back because they recognize it as a local number, and they get the police department. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe this is true.’”
The calls become even more deceiving when the scammers attempt to convince their targets that they have outstanding fines with the city, which is one of multiple ploys that the scammers frequently try, according to the RFPD.
“There’s a different variety of things that people are saying,” Knutson said. “The most common one is they claim to be the IRS, and that the person on the phone owes them money, and if they don’t pay, the police will be coming to arrest them.”
Most often, the targeted individuals identify the call as a scam and do not provide any form of payment. However, under rare circumstances where the individual acquiesces to the scam, it provides the police department with an opportunity to trace where the money has gone.
“We attempted to trace where the money went, and it actually ended up leaving the country and going to somewhere in Africa,” Knutson said. “Then once it hit there, we kind of lost contact of where it was able to go.”
Though there are very few cases where people report losing money to the scam, the police department acknowledges the potential that more people have fallen prey to the fraud, because people often do not like to admit that they have been scammed.
Given the difficulty of tracing not only where the money has gone but also where the phone calls are coming from, the RFPD does not expect to be able to end the scam by its own means.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s completely impossible,” Knutson said, “but the amount of resources it would take to track this down is more than we have right now.”
Though a lack of resources currently hinders the RFPD from shutting down the scam, the department does believe it may be able to combat the scam through a different strategy.
“Our biggest strategy is education,” Knutson said, “to let people know what’s going on, to teach people about scams.”