Phone Scammers Take A Move From The Ransomer’s Playbook

It didn’t seem too long ago everyone was aware of common scams, from Phone Scammers trying to sell you premium Microsoft support to Ransomers who claim to be from the FBI and lock down your desktop.  While these are still common problems, at least we say we can identify obvious scams…until now that is.

An article by Emily Patterson of the Better Business Bureau describes a new phone scam attempting to steal unsuspecting people’s hard earned cash and, this time, they are posing as the police.

The scam works like this:


  1. You get a call, if you have caller ID it informs you that it’s coming from your local sheriff’s office.
  2. You pick it up and the “Sheriff” tells you that there is a warrant out for your arrest.
  3. You can avoid being arrested by paying a fine and everything will be cleared.
  4. To pay the fine, you need to either use a Money Order or pre-paid debit card, like MoneyPak.
  5. Bad Guys Profit

The goal of the scammers is obviously to steal money from you, by employing similar practices as recent Ransomware that pretend to be from the FBI or other law enforcement agencies. They employ software that spoofs the caller ID to make the call seem more legitimate.

In addition, the article explains that there have been some cases where names of local police officers were used in the call to add another layer of legitimacy.

I think there is a high probability that this threat is local, as in originating within the U.S. where a scammer can grab a phone book for a location, easily determine the names of officers from a quick web search and then just start moving down the list and calling everyone.

Luckily, this scam is much easier to avoid than something like Ransomware which requires time and knowledge to remove the malware.

Patterson advises that potential victims just hang up the phone, don’t wire any money, don’t call them back and don’t even try to talk to them because giving away personal information to these people might make you a target for a future scam.

In addition, call the real police and tell them what happened, they can get the word out via local news organizations to warn other people who live in your area who might not be as savvy as you when it comes to avoiding scams.

Any law enforcement agency, be it the FBI, CIA or your local Sheriff’s office is NOT going to ask you to pay a fine over the phone with a prepaid card. Instead, they are going to send you a physical letter that you will get the day before you need to pay it, then you have to drive 50 miles, wait in line for three hours and fill out a form that you have to submit with a notarized money order or check.

While it is not an efficient method of taking care of debts, it is certainly legitimate.

Safe surfing and in this case, safe calling! DFTBA!


Adam Kujawa

Director of Malwarebytes Labs

Over 14 years of experience fighting malware on the front lines and behind the scenes. Frequently anachronistic.