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Consumers can help law enforcement fight robocalls: No one is immune from scams, Tulsa police say

Consumers can help law enforcement fight robocalls: No one is immune from scams, Tulsa police say

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This is your last chance to lower your credit card interest rate. We’ve been trying to reach you concerning your vehicle’s extended warranty. Hi, I’m Stetson from the economic relief fund calling about your unsettled federal tax debt.

Sound familiar?

If you use a phone, you’re probably getting robocalls. They show up with what appear to be real numbers from towns you may have heard of, but either a programmed voice or someone you’ve never met starts their script when you answer. They’re annoying, make you less willing to answer numbers you don’t recognize and can lead to harmful scams, but there are steps both you and the government can take to end the problem.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter joined 53 attorneys general in supporting the TRACED Act, a bipartisan Senate bill designed to empower federal regulators and law enforcement to limit and prosecute robocalls.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., would make phone service providers use technology to filter robocalls from legitimate calls before customers’ phones ring. It would also raise the Federal Communications Commission’s fine to $10,000 per prohibited call from a telemarketer, among other steps to strengthen the FCC’s ability to stop the calls, including working with state and federal law enforcement.

While local law enforcement, including the Tulsa Police Department, take reports from victims of phone scams coming from robocalls, emails and other means, little can be done. Sgt. Ali Maurer with the department’s Financial Crimes Unit said because calls often originate well outside the city’s jurisdiction, the reports almost never result in investigations, let alone arrests.

And the technology that makes robocalls hard to stop keeps police from pursuing a case for reasons other than just jurisdiction, Maurer said.

“When I do an affidavit for charges, I have to name a specific person,” Maurer said. “So on a robocall, I have no idea if that’s Joe Smith or Jane Smith on the other end of that call, and, also, really, it’s a robot, so there’s nothing for me.”

Maurer said because investigation is rarely an option, education is the best defense against robocalls and scams. She said staying aware of local news about scams is one of the best ways to avoid falling for them later.

Robocalls, at least those that aren’t telemarketers asking you to try a product, often prey upon people’s greed and fears, Maurer said. If you didn’t enter the lottery, you can’t win the lottery by paying someone hundreds of dollars on lottery winnings. Others hear urgent messages warning of harsh consequences if money isn’t paid and scaring victims into cashing out.

No one is immune from becoming a victim, Maurer said, adding that she hears from people of all ages and walks of life.

“I wish I could say it’s only the elderly and younger people,” Maurer said. “But I’ve literally had CEOs at major companies inside this city fall for scams like this.”

Callers may impersonate local law enforcement, prosecutors or city utility operators asking for payment to avoid penalties and even threaten jail time.

The Drug Enforcement Administration warned this week that scammers posing as DEA agents and high-ranking officials were threatening victims with jail time and legal action if they did not pay a fine. The attempts reportedly went so far as to provide badge numbers and spoof legitimate DEA phone numbers.

Maurer said those scams are easy to beat because warrants or other threats can be verified through local authorities.

The rest, Maurer said, come down to common sense.

“Even if I suspected I might have a warrant, I think I would want to see some proof of that,” Maurer said. “I also think that in my brain, I think now wouldn’t I be smart enough that wherever I have this warrant, they’re not going to want to be paid in iTunes gift cards.”

Stetson Payne 918-732-8135

stetson.payne@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @stetson__payne

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Staff Writer

I cover breaking news, general assignment and other stories. I previously worked at the Enterprise-Journal in Mississippi. I'm from Broken Arrow and graduated with a journalism degree from Oklahoma State University. Phone: 918-581-8466

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