Incident Type: Scam Phone Calls
Incident Date: 12/16/20
Date of Release: 12/17/20
Prepared By: Lt. Edward Hartwick
On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the Fitchburg Police Department received several calls from Dane County residents who reported receiving a suspicious phone call from someone identifying themself as a member of the Fitchburg Police Department. The recipients of these suspicious calls reported the caller had identified themself as Sergeant Thomas Schmit of the Fitchburg Police Department. The calls originated from a 608 area code number and the caller provided the same number to call back on. The number is not associated with the City of Fitchburg.
The general premise of the calls was consistent with a common phone scam in which the caller states the call recipient has a warrant for the arrest after failing to appear for a court case. Generally, these types of calls inform the recipient the situation can be handled civilly or criminally and the recipient can settle the matter civilly by purchasing gift cards, wiring money, or providing personal information. Arrest is threatened if payment is not made. In some instances, the callers are able to spoof actual phone numbers of law enforcement agencies to legitimize the call. Scam callers often have a variety of pieces of personal information, including social security numbers, to persuade the recipient. Many of these calls are easily detectable as they are "robo-calls".
The calls reported to our department yesterday were unique for a few reasons. It appears the caller searched for and the used the name of an actual department employee. In this case, the name used was that of a retired department member. The caller also provided a local call-back number whereas many of these types of scams redirect the caller to a different number than what appears on caller ID. A number of apps and other programs allow scammers to spoof numbers or obtain local phone numbers that can be used anonymously and are typically untraceable. The investigating officer also noted all three recipients of these calls who contacted our department are Madison area therapists. It is not believed the therapists were targeted for any information specific to their practices. All of the recipients recognized the suspicious nature of these calls and ended the contact before they were asked for personal information or provided with instructions to send money. They contacted our department to check the validity of the caller's employment status and confirmed their suspicions.
In regards to this specific scam, it is important to note law enforcement officials will never call you and request financial information or payment to avoid arrest. If you receive a phone call from someone identifying themself as a law enforcement officer and requesting money, it is a scam. Do not provide financial information or follow instructions to make payments. Scam phone calls like this can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (see below) and do not need to be reported directly to local law enforcement. If you fall victim to this, or any other type of scam, and lose money, it can be reported to your local law enforcement agency.
If you receive a call from someone who identifies themself as a law enforcement officer and you wish to verify their identity, obtain the person's name, agency, and badge number. Call the non-emergency number for the agency and describe the situation.
These calls are a timely reminder of the busy scam season that often accompanies the holiday season. Scammers typically try to exploit already stressful situations or times of year like the holidays or tax season and now a number of scams are related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most scams can be prevented by:
- Trusting your instincts
- Never giving out personal information over the phone or entering it on an unknown website
- Not opening e-mails from unknown senders
- Hanging up the phone if you believe the call is a scam
Many internet service providers and email services have built in utilities for identifying and flagging fraudulent emails. You can learn more about blocking and preventing robocalls here: https://www.fcc.gov/call-blocking
A full listing of scam and fraud prevention and reporting resources can be found on our website: http://fitchburgwi.gov/1103/Scams-and-Frauds
Have You Received a Fraudulent Phone Call or E-Mail?
Report frauds, scams and bad business practices to the Federal Trade Commission: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
Report internet crimes: https://www.ic3.gov
If you are the victim of a fraud or identity theft, contact your local law enforcement agency to file a report. Receipt of a scam phone call or email does not need to be reported to your local law enforcement agency