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Residents warned about growing phone scam

Callers use Sheriff’s Office names, number

COVINGTON — Law enforcement agencies are continuing to crack down on a telephone scam that is victimizing local residents by making them believe they will go to jail if they don’t pay a fine.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has taken several reports of a telephone scam in which the caller states he is a member of the Sheriff’s Office and may also give a name and rank. Some of the names given by the caller are actual names of either present or former employees of the Sheriff’s Office, said Investigator Jeff Alexander in a press release.

“During the call, the caller advises that there is a warrant out on the victim for various reasons or due to money owed for unpaid fines and even unpaid taxes. The victims’ caller IDs have even shown the Sheriff’s Office main line number,” he said.

On Tuesday, one Newton County resident contacted the Sheriff’s Office to report he had received a similar call.

According to the incident report, the man received a phone call from a number identified as the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. The person told the victim that “he owed money for taxes and needed to pay several thousand dollars or he would be placed in jail,” the report states.

The would-be victim recognized this was a scam and did not send any money. Instead, he contacted the Sheriff’s Office.

Earlier this month, a woman from Covington said she received a phone call from a man claiming to be “Lt. Sims” with the Newton County Warrants Division. According to the incident report filed by the Sheriff’s Office, the number “Lt. Sims” called from was identified as “Newton County” and showed as 678-625-1400, which is the Sheriff’s Office main number.

The suspect told the woman that she had missed court with Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn the day before and had to pay “fines and restitution” in the amount of $349.

“The suspect instructed her to get a prepaid card for the amount listed and use the scratch-off number on the back and call him at (a different number),” the incident report states.

She, too, recognized it was a fraudulent call and contacted the Sheriff’s Office.

Alexander said it is unfortunate that several targets of the scam have fallen victim to it.

“Be advised that the Newton County Sheriff’s Office will not call and ask for fees or fines over the telephone, nor will we ask citizens to purchase a money card of any type to pay these fees or fines,” he said.

A similar scam has also been happening using the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office.

In April, one Newton County woman fell victim to the scam. She reported to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office that she, too, was contacted by someone telling her she had a warrant out of Rockdale County for not showing up for grand jury duty, according to the NCSO report.

“They stated, ‘don’t hang up the phone or your a— will be going to jail,’” the victim told the deputy.

She said she stayed on the phone while she withdrew about $2,700 from her bank and purchased Green Dot cards.

And she wasn’t the only one in Rockdale to receive a call like this.

According to the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office reports and comments from victims, the scammers used essentially the same script with each of them. The caller identified himself as either “Lt. John Martin” or “Capt. Larry Truitt.” The callers knew their would-be victims’ addresses and provided them phone numbers to call back. One potential victim said she called the number given, which was answered by a female who answered, “Sheriff’s Office, how can I help you,” the incident report states.

They told their victims that they had missed jury or grand jury duty a few weeks earlier and would have to pay a fine to avoid arrest. In at least one instance, the scammers told the victim that Rockdale County Superior Court Judge Robert Mumford would be issuing a warrant for her arrest if she didn’t pay the “fine.” They were all told to remain on the phone with the scammers until the transactions were completed.

Alexander said these scams are an “ongoing battle,” particularly since the fraudsters are using recognizable names and phone numbers of legitimate officials.

“If you receive one of these calls do not send any money or give out your banking information. Call the Sheriff’s Office to make a report or just hang up,” Alexander said.