A scam that attempts to extort money and personal information from people by threatening them with arrest by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has already targeted two Union County residents and Sheriff David Taylor is warning the public not to fall for it.
Taylor announced Wednesday that two Union County residents had been contacted by phone by scam artists posing as DEA agents or members of other law enforcement agencies. He said the calls are part of an international extortion scheme that is targeting people who purchased medication online or by telephone.
“The criminals call the victims who in most cases have previously purchased drugs over the Internet or by telephone and identify themselves as DEA agents or law enforcement officials from other agencies,” Taylor said. “The impersonators inform their victims that purchasing drugs over the Internet or by telephone is illegal, and that enforcement action will be taken against them unless they pay a fine. In most cases, the impersonators instruct their victims to pay the ‘fine’ via wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas. If victims refuse to send money, the impersonators often threaten to arrest them or search their property.”
Taylor said the fact that the scam artists identify themselves as DEA agents and threaten to come to the victim’s home is the first and most obvious sign that it’s a scam.
“They threaten them and scare them by telling them that if they don’t do this right away they’ll take out a federal warrant for their arrest,” Taylor said. “That should be a clue that this is a scam because no DEA agent would do that. If a person is wanted by the DEA the agents will not call ahead, they will simply come to your home and serve the warrant. No DEA agent will ever contact you by telephone to demand money or any other form of payment. If a person calls you claiming to be a DEA agent and threatens you with arrest or demands money, they are not a DEA agent and you should call 911 and report it.”
Two people in Union County have already been targeted by this scam, but Taylor said they didn’t fall for it. Instead they called his office, letting deputies know that the scam artists were targeting local residents.
“I know of two people in this county who have received these phone calls so far,” Taylor said. “They didn’t fall for it, instead they called us. This is how we first found out about this scam.
“Anyone contacted like these two people were should not give the criminals any information,” he said. “They should call 911 and report it like these two people did.”
If a victim calls the number the phony DEA agent called them from, the scam artist will claim that they’ve reached the DEA’s office in Washington, DC.
“When you call that number back that the calls are coming from, the person answering will state ‘DEA Washington Office,’” Taylor said. “This is not a DEA phone number, so don’t call it because it just gives the criminals another chance to extort you. Call 911 or call the sheriff’s office instead.”
After he learned of the scam, Taylor said he contacted the DEA about it and was told it’s taking place throughout the country. He said when caught, the scam artists will not only be charged with perpetrating a scam, but also impersonating a DEA agent, a federal offense.
In addition to warning about the scam itself, Taylor also warned the public to exercise extreme caution if they decide to order medication online or by telephone.
“It is illegal to purchase controlled substance pharmaceuticals online or by telephone unless very stringent requirements are met,” Taylor said. “All pharmacies that dispense controlled substance pharmaceuticals by means of the lnternet must be registered with DEA. By ordering any pharmaceutical medications online or by telephone from unknown entities, members of the public risk receiving unsafe, counterfeit, and/or ineffective drugs from criminals who operate outside the law.
“In addition, personal and financial information could be compromised,” he said. “Some victims who purchased their drugs using a credit card also reported fraudulent use of their credit cards.”
If you find yourself the target of this extortion attempt, give out no personal information, hang up and then call either 911 or the Union County Sheriff’s Office at 429-1612 or call the DEA at 1-877-792-2873.