Don’t Fall for Phone Scams



They call it the “Warrant Scam” because often the swindler who calls you is informing you of an outstanding arrest warrant. The criminals may tell you he or she works for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department or perhaps another local law enforcement agency.  The caller may also claim to work for the IRS and is calling because you have a fine or debt.

In all these cases, you will be strongly urged to resolve it with a payment over the phone. And just for good measure, the criminals try scaring people with a threat of arrest or additional financial penalties if it is not taken care of immediately.

Never send anyone like this a payment by phone or provide your financial information. San Diego County Sheriff’s fraud investigators warn that nearly every kind of call like this is a scam.

Recently, these calls have been making the rounds, even catching some County employees at their desk phones.

In one recent call to Steve Jonas in Creative Services, the criminal identified himself as a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department, who coincidentally, or not, works in the Fraud Division. As the caller told Jonas that he had failed to appear for a Grand Jury trial and now had an active bench warrant out, Jonas did a search on the County’s InSite page for the name given to him and was surprised to find a lieutenant by that name working for the Sheriff. This made him think that perhaps it was a real call, but luckily he stayed alert for red flags.

Jonas asked the swindler what address the original grand jury notice had been sent to and was given a previous address as well as two incorrect ones. He was told he would need to take the payment to Sheriff’s Central Division, 9621 Ridgehaven Court in Kearny Mesa. Jonas checked that and saw that it was indeed the correct address for the Sheriff’s Department.

Then it really started getting odd: Jonas was instructed to buy a special money voucher at Ralphs Supermarket because they did not accept credit cards or checks or debit payments. The swindler also told him he needed to be in constant contact with him and asked him for his cell phone number. The swindler immediately called him on his cell phone and instructed him to hang up his work phone. He told Jonas he was now in the federal tracking system and would be subject to arrest if he hung up.

At this point, Jonas knew it did not seem real, so using his work phone, he called the number for the real sheriff’s lieutenant who promptly answered his phone.

“I held the phones close together and told the shyster, ‘Wow, you don’t sound anything like the real you!’ And he hung up,” Jonas said.

Sheriff’s Lt. David Gilmore, the lieutenant whose name is being used, said the criminals in these kind of scams “prey upon people, who are really good people” and want to do the right thing. He notes that San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and courts or IRS would not reach out to anyone by phone such as this and require payment by phone.

Criminals can easily do a search online to obtain some true information such as real names and addresses, so that alone can’t be a reason to trust someone, Gilmore said. Lately, the criminals have used his name, but there have been other lieutenants whose names were used in previous years. 

If you receive one of these calls, note the phone number where the call came in if possible, the date and time, then hang up and email the County Technology Office  service desk

To learn more about these scams and how to protect yourself from them, visit the San Diego Sheriff’s Department’s Financial Crimes page which includes how to protect yourself from scams and short videos on various scams.