A telephone scam making the rounds in Butler County can fool anyone, including the three doctors who have contacted Sheriff Mike Slupe to inquire about it.
“One of them ran into my office all out of breath,” Slupe said on Thursday afternoon. “He was ready to go buy almost $4,000 worth of gift cards.”
Slupe wants county residents to be aware of the scam, in which the crooks call from a phone number in the 724 area code and tell victims that they are being fined for failing to appear for jury duty.
The very convincing caller identifies himself as a sheriff's deputy and gives a fictitious name and docket number, Slupe said.
The rattled victim is then instructed to buy certain gift cards in $500 increments and send them to the caller.
“Just hang up,” Slupe advised. “I want to empower people to hang up.
“Butler Countians are such nice people, we don't want to hang up, but this is different. These people are trying to steal your money.”
He said the thieves seem to be targeting area doctors. In addition to the nervous physician who turned up at his office on Thursday morning, another lawyer representing a local doctor called Slupe to see if the call was legitimate.
“If any alleged representative of a sheriff's office calls and says 'Pay me money or gift cards to stay out of jail,' hang up,” Slupe advises.
Slupe said it is difficult to catch the scammers because they use a smartphone app to get untraceable phone numbers with area codes in the locality where they plan to carry out the operation.
He said police normally get involved once someone has been relieved of money by the scammers.
“It's a total fraud and a crime,” Slupe said.
He said the call back number the perpetrators give has a voice-mail message that sounds official and even advises the caller to hang up and call 911 if they are calling about a true emergency.
“If you listen to their dialect, you can tell they're not from around here,” Slupe said.
He said the scam started in the eastern part of the state and migrated westward.
“This is going on throughout the commonwealth right now,” Slupe said.