A scammer posing as head of the Medford Police Department's Financial Investigation Section tricked a local woman out of $6,000 this week, Medford police said.
The woman lost the money Wednesday following a telephone scam that ended with her wiring the money to Lima, Peru, allegedly to claim an old Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes prize. The money was picked up within the hour she had sent it.
"This is by far the most elaborate scam that I have seen," said Sgt. Brent Mak, whose name was one of several identities the scammer used during the incident. "To have them use my name is very frustrating."
The scam started when the woman received a call from someone who claimed to be from the FBI. The scammer told the woman she had won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes prize a few years ago and had not been notified. The caller told the woman she needed to wire money to claim the prize, as state taxes had not been paid on the sum yet.
The victim said she was skeptical about the validity of the call, and the caller told her a representative from Medford police would call her to verify.
Minutes later, a caller who said he was Sgt. Mak of the Medford Police Department called, and the woman's caller ID showed that the call came from the city of Medford.
"She had written down my name," Mak said. "They told her specifically my first name and last name."
He said that meant the scammer would have needed to look him up on the Medford police website.
Police said the call was "caller ID spoofed," a way to mask a telephone number's real origin. Free online services enable people to put in information that will display to make it look like the call is coming from a trusted place.
After receiving the second call, the victim wired the money, filling in her daughter's name as the recipient, just as she had been instructed by the scammer.
Medford police are urging citizens to be cautious about sending money via wire transfer, especially to locations outside the U.S.
It's not an occasional problem, either, police said. Scams targeting senior citizens on the rise.
Scott South, manager of Ray's Food Place in Central Point, prevented a $4,600 scam Thursday when an elderly woman came in wanting to wire money to her grandson in Bolivia.
"We probably see this once every month or two," South said. "Usually it's above $1,000."
South said store employees working the Western Union wire service are trained to ask questions because of scams. It sometimes takes some convincing, he said.
"I have to work at it sometimes. They just don't believe me," he said. "I think they're embarrassed."
Medford residents who receive calls from parties asking for money or promising prizes should call Medford police.
Mak said he is in the process of putting together a card with several points of consideration for Western Union employees to give to customers who are about to wire money.
Sample questions could include, "If you're sending money, have you been told you won a major prize?" and "Have you been told you must pay taxes on the prize?"
"In almost all of these, there's a sense of urgency," Mak said. "It's gone on long enough."
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.