Phone Scams Turn Terrifying: Police

State police urged Pennsylvanians to be suspicious of calls demanding money, saying any call asking for money to be wired is a "dead giveaway" the call is a scam.

By Jack Tobias

Phone scams that demand money and threaten violence to family members have struck the region.

A 65-year-old Northampton County man wired $550 Tuesday morning after being told his son would be shot if he didn't, Patch reported. The caller, saying a gun was being pointed at the son's head, said the son had been involved in a hit-and-run crash with the caller's family. It turned out to be a phony threat.

And in Lehigh County Wednesday morning, a caller asked a resident for $2,000, saying a family member of the resident was in danger. The story was a lie and the resident did not send money, according to state police at Fogelsville.

In southcentral Pennsylvania, meanwhile, at least six similar scams have been reported, a state police spokesman said.
Radnor police said a local merchant received a threatening phone call from a man who told her that her brother had been in a car accident. The man on the phone then demanded $2,000 from the victim to pay for damages sustained in the alleged crash.

The man also threatened that he was going to shoot the victim's brother in the head if the money was not wired immediately, according to Radnor Police.

The victim's brother confirmed he was not involved in any car crash. Further investigation of the cell phone number used to place the call determined it to be associated with an ongoing phone scam in the Philadelphia region. 

Read about a West Chester woman who received a similar call threatening her father's life.

State police at Fogelsville, in reporting the Lower Macungie, Lehigh County, scam, wrote that they "want to make all citizens of the Commonwealth aware of similar phone scams."

In addition to demands for money and threats against family members, the scams reveal that the scammers have done their homework on the targeted families, often using information readily available on Facebook and other social media sites, according to state police spokesman Trooper Adam Reed.

"You don't think it will be used for evil purposes," Reed said of the scammers' use of social media.

Another similarity, he said, appears to be that some of the phone calls have been traced to Puerto Rico, Reed said.

The Wilson (Northampton County) resident, for instance, wired $550 via MoneyGram to Puerto Rico, according to the Patch story. Some of the southcentral Pennsylvania cases have a Puerto Rico connection, Reed said.

The scammers use technology to mask calls—like those from Puerto Rico—so that the numbers popping up on caller IDs appear to have been placed in Pennsylvania, Reed said. For instance, the call to the Lower Macungie resident had a 717 area code—the area code for southcentral Pennsylvania.

Still another similarity, he said, is the amount of money being demanded—$2,000. That was the amount demanded of the Lower Macungie resident, although in the Wilson case the amount demanded was $1,500.

Reed urged Pennsylvanians to be suspicious of calls demanding money. He said any call asking for money to be wired is a "dead giveaway" that the call is a scam.

He pointed to a resident of Perry County, northwest of Harrisburg, who got a call saying the resident's brother was taken hostage. The resident was able to call the brother and another family member and learned the hostage situation was a lie. The resident did not wire the money demanded.

Reed said the state police's Pennsylvania Crime Intelligence Center, sort of the law enforcement agency's think tank, is being sent reports of the phone scams so it can track trends to help break up the operations behind them.


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