Identity burglars enter by phone

HOUGHTON COUNTY — The number of identity theft reports to some law enforcement agencies has been increasing recently, and in nearly every instance, it begins with people giving information to phone scammers.

Sgt. Russell Larson of the Michigan State Police Post Calumet said he has noticed an increase in both identity theft reports and phone scam-type calls, which, he says, are linked.

“I’ve noticed there seems to be an uptick of both identity thefts and scam phone calls,” he said, “which often leads to the identity theft, if the people called provide the information the scammers are asking for.”

There are different scenarios scammers use. One of the more popular scenarios, Larson said, is trying to initiate a transaction by claiming he or she is an attorney, representing a grandson, nephew, or other relative, who has been arrested and is jail. The caller then states an amount of money needed to post the alleged relative’s bond.

“They try to apply a lot of pressure,” said Larson, “as far as trying to make the person feel that if they don’t act quickly, bad things are going to happen.”

No legitimate attorney would do that, he said. The strategy behind the high-pressure tactic is to excite the victim to act quickly, without giving him or her time to think about the situation or discuss it with a family member. The caller will encourage the potential victim to transfer the money through Western Union, or even an iTunes gift card.

While the rash of scam calls began with requesting money, Larson said increasingly, the scammers have gravitated to asking for bank account information, Social Security number or other personal information.

In another tactic, the scam caller attempts to make it seem as though the proposed transfer is a legitimate transaction, bank-to-bank, and with that plan, the caller attempts to gather banking information so the caller can drain the account.