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SCAM ALERT: Sophistication, Law Enforcement, and Money – Beware

Binary Defense was contacted by an individual who was recently scammed out of $4,000 through a sophisticated and organized criminal scheme. Normally we hear about a lot of different types of simple scams—most of these are widespread and common, without much thought put into targeting or researching specific people. This one however grabbed our interest, due to the level of sophistication, targeting, and the level of research that the criminals did on the individuals they targeted. We are currently working with law enforcement and the victims to help them in any way we can and wanted to get the information out as quickly as possible to warn others to beware of this scam since is highly believable.

This scam started today and is fairly difficult to detect. It started with a phone call to the victim, for anonymous purposes we will call her Mary. The call originated from a (216) area code (Cuyahoga County Ohio) and Mary dismissed the call as an unknown number, sending it to voicemail. The voicemail started off:

This is the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department, this message is for Mary Doe, address of, and full birthdate. There is a warrant for your arrest for missing mandated Jury Duty. We see in your records that you have previously served in Jury Duty without issue however you need to show up to the Cuyahoga County Courthouse located at 373 Lakeside Ave, Cleveland OH 44113. Please reference case number #.

At this point, the scammers knew the victim’s date of birth, address, and actual times the victim had previously been on jury duty (this could have been a guess). For scammers, this is building confidence in the validity of the individuals making the call to ensure that the victim calls back. The “case agent” calling Mary spoke perfect English.

Mary called back, and at this point from a trusted perspective, she was skeptical even though they had a substantial amount of information on her. The automated phone menu system that answered the call was a direct mirror of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department automated system. They had automatic options to speak to an officer and the standard language used by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department’s phone system. Mary pressed the right key to speak to an officer. The officer answered the phone and Mary provided the case number referenced in the voicemail. The officer transferred Mary to a “case agent” who had her information. The case officer again established credibility by reading off prior infractions including speeding ticket dates and amounts, date of birth, address, and prior jury duty assignments.

The “case agent” then explained to her that she had to immediately report to the Cuyahoga County Courthouse located at 373 Lakeside Ave, Cleveland OH 44113 to pay a fine, or due to COVID-19 related issues with travel, could remotely post bond.

Here is where it gets very interesting and shows how well researched and thought-out this entire process was.

The “case agent” had Mary go out to a local location and purchase a MoneyPak. MoneyPak is a way to receive and send money through something similar to gift cards that are money backed. The “case agent” provided the physical address to send the MoneyPak to which was the actual courthouse building. Mary actually took the steps to validate that the address was for the courthouse – 373 Lakeside Ave, Cleveland OH 44113.

Here is where they got Mary.

The “case agent” had Mary call them back to verify that the MoneyPak was being sent to the physical courthouse location and to “confirm” that she had purchased it, they asked Mary to provide the MoneyPak card number and PIN over the phone. This allowed the scammers to withdraw the funds through MoneyPak immediately and not even care about where the physical MoneyPak cards were being sent to – which was the legitimate courthouse address.

There are a lot of lessons to learn here. Scammers are continuously becoming more sophisticated in their attacks and the level of targeting is at an all-time high. It is imperative that individuals take steps to protect themselves and know what is possible in order to prevent these types of scams.

An interesting part of the story happened when Mary reported the scam to the local police. The police officer taking her report explained that this might actually be real and that due to COVID, the courts are doing payments through the mail. The officer then called the scammer’s number which had the recording of the actual Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department and said “yep, it is legit, this is the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department” and that it wasn’t an issue. After Mary provided additional evidence, explained the situation, and walked the officer through how this was faked, the officer finally conceded and began a police report. If Mary had not been armed with the right information, this would have even fooled the police officer.

How to Protect Yourself

This was a well-organized operation and the criminals did extensive research on the victims. All of the information provided to Mary was public information. Many people may not realize how much public information such as speeding tickets you’ve paid, and other pieces of information can be pulled directly through public records. It is unusual to see this level of sophistication targeting individual people and the level of detail that they went through in order to scam the victim out of over $4,000.

Here are steps you need to be aware of in order to ensure this does not happen to you.

  1. Check the phone number that is calling you. By simply using a search engine to check the phone number you can verify whether the phone number actually belongs to the Sherriff’s Department or not. In this case, the phone number was a fake one that was newly registered and hard to trace.
  2. Directly call the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department versus directly calling the number that originally called you. In this case, the reason the scam was detected so quickly is that Mary called the courthouse to find out the scheduled time for her court arraignment and they had no record of her, or anything related to this case (because it was a scam).
  3. Know that the government does not work at such an escalated pace. Do your research and understand that you would have multiple notices of missing jury duty or upcoming confirmations for jury duty in the event you were scheduled for this. If someone on the phone says that you have to pay a fine immediately, ask them to send you an official notice through certified mail. Government agencies prefer to use the mail because it provides a record, but scammers try to avoid using the mail because it adds an additional criminal charge (postal fraud) and gives the victim time to think it through and research the notice before paying.
  4. Know that jury duty is only required every two years. If you have already participated in jury duty within a two-year period, it is a federal law that you only have to participate every 2 years.

    “Under Federal law, a person cannot be required to serve jury duty more often than once every two (2) years. Title 28, United States Code, Section 1866(e) .”

  5. Know that personal information about you is readily available to criminals. This includes Name, Address, DOB, traffic tickets, jury duty, court appearances, arrests, criminal background, and even your social security number. It is trivial to find individuals’ social security numbers and that should not be a way for you to validate who is talking to you on the phone.
  6. The local, state and federal government will not have you purchase MoneyPak or other gift cards in order to post bond on behalf of the government itself.

The steps listed here, regardless of how the scammers are trying to convince you of the scam, can help protect you against fraud. Scammers change their tactics all of the time and being aware of what is possible, makes you much safer online. At Binary Defense, we help companies, corporations, and individuals in protecting themselves and continue to report information as we get it. Protect yourself through educating yourself on what’s possible. These scammers put a lot of effort into the research and setup of this scheme and will certainly keep trying to trick people into sending them money. Because this was one of the more targeted attacks against an individual that we’ve seen, it grabbed our interest. We hope that sharing this information will help you to recognize the scam when you see it and report it to law enforcement, putting the scammers in the place of having to worry about a warrant for their arrest.