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Dentists targeted by scam call

In mid-February, the office manager at Dr. W. Keith Appel’s dentistry practice in Grove City received a troubling phone call. An anonymous caller claimed that Dr. Appel had put his signature on a subpoena, ordering him to appear in court by a certain time.

“He told us that because (Dr. Appel) didn't show up, he had to go down there right now, down to the police station, or (the police) were going to come get him,” said office manager Michelle Slater.

At the time, Dr. Appel was working on a filling and could not come to the phone.

“He would say things like, ‘Ma’am, I told, you, if he doesn’t show up, he is in violation,’” Slater said.

Eventually, Slater was able to catch on to the scam when she asked the caller how Dr. Appel signed the alleged document.

“The guy said, ‘William Appel,’ and I knew right then,” Slater said. “Doctor Appel has a specific way he signs his signature. That's not how he signs his signature.”

Slater also asked the caller when the alleged signing took place, and was told that it happened around lunchtime.

“He gave us this date and time, and I realized that was over our lunch hour, so nobody here signed that. We weren’t even here,” Slater said.

Eventually, the caller did get in contact with Dr. Appel himself and told the doctor that he would need to pay a fine for the alleged infraction.

“When he asked Dr. Appel for payment, he said, ‘I’ll pay in person,’” Slater said.

The scam ended when Dr. Appel did make his way down to the Grove City police station, where officers informed the dentist that the call was a scam.

Slater said she asked around and found out that Dr. Appel was not the only one to be targeted by this scam attempt. At least two other dentists in the area — including one in Butler County — received similar calls. Like with Dr. Appel, neither took the bait, Slater said.

The Butler-based office was not available for comment, but Dr. Robert J. Petty’s office, of Grove City, confirmed receiving a call about a week ago from someone claiming to be from the Pennsylvania State Police.

Slater said she believes there is an explanation for why the responsible party seems to be targeting dentists’ offices.

“We think they target dentists, doctors and surgeons in the hopes that they aren’t able to leave their office at that time … that they’re with a patient in the middle of surgery,” Slater said. “So they'll tell you to go ahead and pay the fine, and you can dispute the fine later.”

While some dentists in Grove City were only recently targeted, this scam has been making the rounds for over a year. In August 2022, the FBI’s Baltimore branch sent out a memo warning those in the health care field to watch out for scammers impersonating law enforcement to extort money.

“Law enforcement authorities or government officials will never contact members of the public or medical practitioners by telephone to demand any form of payment, or to request personal or sensitive information,” according to the FBI’s 2022 memo. “Any legitimate investigation or legal action will be done in person or by official letter.”

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