Union Daily Times

‘Public defender’ scam alert issued

UNION — A concerned bank employee’s call to the Union Public Safety Department helped prevent a Union resident from falling victim to a scam that could have cost him more than $8,000.

The Union Public Safety Department has issued a scam alert to warn the public about a telephone scam in which the victim is contacted by someone claiming to be a public defender in Florida. The caller claims that a member of the victim’s family has been arrested and they, the caller, have been appointed to serve as their public defender. They then tell the victim that they must send money to get their family member out of jail.

The scam alert was issued in reference to an incident that occurred Monday afternoon. The incident report states that an officer was contacted by an employee of South State Bank concerning a customer who was at the bank because they’d been told to withdraw a large sum of money to get a family member out of jail. The report states the employee was alarmed at this and called the Public Safety Department and asked to speak to an officer. No officer was available at the time, but the report states the records clerk at Public Safety asked an officer to call the bank employee.

The officer did so and the bank employee told him what was going on. The report states the officer advised the bank employee to have the customer come to the Public Safety Department and speak to an officer before sending any money because it could possibly be a scam.

A short time later the victim arrived at the Public Safety Department to speak with an officer and told him that he’d received a phone call from a public defender in Orlando, Florida, who said that his grandson had been arrested for DUI that morning. The caller said that he’d been appointed the grandson’s public defender and told the victim that he needed to go to the bank and withdraw $8,600 and then call him and he would tell him where to send the money and then his grandson would be released from jail.

The report states the officer asked the victim if he had the phone number of the person claiming to a public defender and he replied that he did. The officer then got on the Internet and pulled up the inmate search for Orange County, Florida, and did not see the name of the grandson listed as an inmate. He then called the detention center and went through the automation on the speaker phone so the victim could hear it and it said that no one by the grandson’s name was incarcerated there.

Next, the officer called the number of the person claiming to be a public defender and identified himself as a member of law enforcement. The officer then advised the alleged public defender of the reason for the call and was told that the grandson had been arrested that morning, had been put in jail, had been appointed a public defender, and that he was representing the grandson. The officer then asked the alleged public defender his name and was told it was “Terry Thomason” and gave an address of 315 Main Street in Florida.

The officer then asked Thomason how someone could get a public defender appointed that quickly. The report states Thomason said things were different in each state. It states the officer continued to question Thomason who finally said he had another client coming in. The report states the officer then advised Thomason that he would be contacting the Public Defenders Office there to verify he was a legitimate attorney and he then hung up.

The officer then pulled up the Public Defenders Office in Orange County, Florida, and it had a listing of all the public defenders there and Thomason was not on the list.

The officer then contacted the victim’s grandson and put on the speaker phone so the victim could hear them. The report states the grandson said he was at work and was not locked up. The officer told the grandson they were on speaker phone and the victim was in his office and could hear them. The report states the grandson told the victim not to send anyone any money.

The officer then ended the phone call and told the victim that he had been the target of a scam and therefore did not have to send money to anyone. The report states the victim said he was not going to and thanked the officer for assisting him and then left and went home.

Union Public Safety Director Sam White said this morning that this is an old scam that has been used many times in the past and usually targets senior citizens with the scam artist telling them they have a child or grandchild in jail and need to send money to get them out. White said that people do not need to fall for this, that today it is easy to go online and determine whether or not a family member is in jail or they can even call the jail and speak to an official there. He said these calls come out of the blue and that should be a tip-off that it is a scam. If a person receives such call, White said they should contact law enforcement and not send any money to the caller.

White said that his department appreciates the bank employee showing the concern they did for the customer and doing what they could to prevent them from falling victim to the scam.

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Caller demands money for relative’s release

By Charles Warner

cwarner@uniondailytimes.com

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.