Scam Alert: Caller Claims to be with Sheriff’s Dept. and Threatens Jail if Fine not Paid

“I want to let you know about a phone scam that happened to me today,” wrote reader Harmony Smith. “I’m hoping that somehow the local public can be warned.”

Smith said the man who called her was “extremely convincing.” First, she received a message on her voice mail purportedly from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department. Smith returned a call to the number provided only to be told that the Sheriff’s Office was placing a bench warrant for her arrest because she hadn’t shown up when called to be a juror on a federal grand jury trial.

“I stated that I did not receive any papers telling me to be a juror,” Smith explained. Then the man threatened her with what Smith said was “jail and federal probation if I did not pay a fine to take care of the situation.”  He told her that she could dispute the charge in front of a judge and be reimbursed if she was innocent.

“He was very convincing,” Smith said. She eventually agreed to pay the fine and deal with the court. Then, she said, he “tried to get me to pay using a green dot credit card.”

Smith refused and told him she would pay in person. The man became even more threatening and Smith said he told her “the bench warrant would be out for my arrest before I got to the jail and I would be arrested and put in jail for the next four days.”

Fortunately, Smith refused to pay anything, hung up and called the Sheriff’s Department. 

“They told me it definitely was a scam,” Smith said.

Very similar scam attempts occurred recently in Del Norte County. On March 14, they warned the public on their Facebook page about “several reports” of man calling people, telling them he was a deputy, and trying to frighten residents into paying a fine. “This is a scam,” the Sheriff’s Department wrote. “[Y]ou will never receive a phone call from the Sheriff’s Office collecting money or wanting you to pay for a fine or fee.”  

Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt Co. Sheriff’s Department explained that these types of scams are an ongoing problem. “It never stops,” he said. And this scam isn’t the only one. For instance, he said there are people who pose as IRS agents calling claiming that the intended victim owes money. “The IRS doesn’t call people. They send formal letters,” Knight said.

Sadly, Knight explained, it is extremely difficult to catch this type of scammer. “A lot of times these are international criminals,” he said. The best way to foil this crime is to hang up and call the official number of the agency that is supposedly threatening. If there is a situation, (though that is unlikely) it can be dealt with properly. Most likely, though, this is an attempt to scam. Don’t fall for it.

“When we’re going to arrest somebody, we usually show up on their doorstep or the DA sends a formal letter,” Knight explained.


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