By Jessie Sawyer
As daunting as it may be to get a call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, try not to be intimidated. The phone calls could be part of a new scam surfacing in the state that recently targeted West Hartford and Manchester residents.
The Department of Consumer Protection reported Friday in a statement that "at least two Connecticut residents have gotten calls in the last week from persons claiming to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but did not fall for the scammers' pressurized pitch."
"We've been notified by a resident that she and a friend both got similar calls recently from people indicating that they were with the FBI and threatening legal action," Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said Friday in a press release. "Thankfully, neither resident was taken in by the intimidation, which could be quite alarming to many."
In the West Hartford case, a caller left messages, identifying himself as John Wright and Adam Scott, asking for the resident to call him back about "charges" being "brought against her," the press release stated. She didn't return the calls.
In Manchester, the scammer actually spoke to a resident. Pretending to work for the "FBI crime investigation department," the caller told the woman who answer her phone that a "legal court file had been charged against her and her identity" and asked whether Connecticut state police notified her of the charges, according to the statement. When the woman said she planned on calling the FBI at its New Haven headquarters, the caller's voice grew angry and he insisted that she "surrender" herself in 30 minutes or agents "would come get" her, the release stated.
"This type of call can be very intimidating to anyone, and we have notified the FBI office in New Haven," Rubenstein said in a statement. "Given the boldness of these calls, it bears repeating that consumers should hang up on any phone call that claims to be from the FBI, particularly calls seeking personal information or money. In these cases, the scammer didn't get a chance to ask for what he was after, because the consumers didn't take the bait."
He said in a statement the "would-be victims" have "probably saved themselves from future scam attempts" by "refusing to play the caller's game."
"Once a scammer realizes they have someone who may be vulnerable to being victimized, they are going to continue to try victimizing that person, until the person either gives in or refuses to cooperate anymore," Rubenstein said.
The Department of Consumer Protection warns that the FBI wouldn't call or email "to threaten an arrest, ask for money or request personal information." However, victims have lost "hundreds of dollars through these scams."
"The FBI strongly encourages anyone who receives a telephone call from someone representing to be from the FBI, to verify the information provided in that call with their local FBI field office," Kimberly K. Mertz, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Haven, said in the press release. "It is also important to remember that the FBI would never threaten anyone with arrest over the telephone or solicit money at any time. If you have concerns, hang up and call us immediately."
Connecticut residents have previously been victimized by a similar scam in the form of emails from FBI impersonators. The "fake FBI phone calls seem to be a newer twist" on the email scam that started in 2008, according to the Department of Consumer Protection.
"Last fall, at least one Connecticut resident fell victim to an 'FBI' email scam that demanded payment of a fine for allegedly downloading child pornography," the Department of Consumer Protection said in a press release. "The virus attached to the email locked up recipient's computer and informed them they needed to pay a $200 fine through a pre-paid debit card."
If you do get a suspicious call from the "FBI," the Department of Consumer Protection said in a statement that "the best strategy is to ask the caller for the agency's number, hang up, research the number to make sure it's legitimate, and then call back to verify the call."
Even if a caller has your date of birth or social security number, do not be deceived, according to the department.
"There are ways that scammers can get their hands on some piece of information, and contact their victims with the hope of getting more information that will help them access additional records or financial accounts," the Department of Consumer Protection said in the release.
If you receive a questionable call from the "FBI," you can report it to the FBI in New Haven at its routine numbers, (203) 777-6311 and (203) 503-5000.