By Jack Nissen
Clinton County Chatter
Residents of Clinton County have recently been plagued by a number of phone calls from apparent scammers threatening action for money.
Callers claiming to be grandchildren or members of the IRS or Consumer Energy have resorted to utilizing fear or desperation. While members of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office has taken measures to help people, it’s proved difficult to reach out to everyone.
“These people are very good at what they do,” said County Sheriff Wayne Kangas. “These scammers have become very savvy about who they contact and what they say.”
Kangas said that senior citizens are easier to manipulate in these situations. They can be very giving people who only want to help and this has been taken advantage of.
“You’ll get a call saying ‘hello grandparent, it’s John your grandson,’” said Kangas. “If the callers get lucky enough and who they are posing as is someone with a name the senior citizen may recognize, they’ve already won. Usually they’ll ask for money to bail them out of jail or get them out of a tough situation.”
While this tactic may not have a high success rate, if the people on the other line are successful just once, it’s a good payday.
“These people ask for a lot of money, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars,” said Sgt. Jeff Clark. “We even had someone send upwards of $30,000. If that’s your kind of payday, then you don’t need to be successful every time.”
For many other private storeowners, they have been subject to harassment from people threatening to arrest them and turn off their power.
“This tactic is the most common scam we’re currently handling,” said Kangas. “If you’re a business owner, the last thing you want is your power being shut off. Many of the residents here depend on their power staying on every day.”
Kangas has observed the change in tactics. Scammers have gotten as smart as cloning the St. Johns Police number and utilizing its area code to convince others to send money.
What the police department has noted is that while each of these new methods remains new, the goal has been the same for a long time.
“Before people were posing as the IRS, you’d receive phone calls telling you things like ‘you just won a million dollars, send us your bank account so we can wire the money to you,’” said Clark. “People wised up to this idea after seeing it so much, so scammers were forced to change their tactics.”
Detective Robert Sipple, Clinton County’s Forensic Technician, has had luck in tracking down some of the callers harassing county residents.
“Using cell phone analysis, I’ve been able to locate some of the callers in closer proximity,” said Sipple. “Many of the callers do their business outside of the country., but for the people we do locate, the police in the area are notified and arrests have been made.”
Even Sipple has been contacted multiple times by phone scammers.
“Some of these people don’t discriminate in who they call,” said Sipple. “We get reports of harassing phone calls fairly regularly.”
Charlotte Voisin, a storeowner in downtown St. Johns, has been contacted multiple times by people posing as members of the IRS. A voicemail was left on her house phone with a threatening request.
“They told me ‘the IRS is presenting a suit against you,’” said Voisin. “Call this number within the next five days.”
While Voisin did not follow up the number, she did report the call to St. John’s local police. Because of the numbers of calls is so high, Voisin was surprised to find the local police station would not follow up the call.
“There really is no way to track these numbers if they’re out of country,” said Kangas. “Or even the money after it’s sent for that matter. Most of what we can do is try to educate people on these potential scams. We have postings on our Facebook group as well on the city’s webpage.”
Kangas has emphasized not to ever send money or information.
“Don’t ever give info out. It’s just common sense that anyone asking for that kind of money or personal information wouldn’t do it over the phone,” said Kangas.