Active Scam Alert:
A cautionary tale for mental health therapists and social workers who have a presence on Psychology Today or other marketing sites
-Intro by Joe Borders, MFT
Recently there has been a scam going around targeting therapists. You’re probably familiar with the usual ones that go around via email, but this one is different and scary. I’ve known a couple of people who have experienced this and they have all talked about it being very convincing and seemingly legitimate. The scam involves someone calling you, representing themselves as a law enforcement officer, saying you missed a court date, and that you will be arrested if you don’t pay. In the various therapist groups I’m involved in on Facebook I have heard several accounts of these calls coming through peoples’ Psychology Today profiles. I think its important for people to know about this, and any other active scams targeting our community. Please share this with your colleagues.
***update 1/26/20*** It happened to me!
I received a call from a number in my area code saying that the Sheriff’s department needed to talk to me about an urgent matter. I googled the officer named in the call and he was a real person but I couldn’t match him to the phone number given in the message. I called the Placer county sheriff’s department directly and talked with a dispatcher there. She seemed familiar with the situation right away and said that they would never use a robo call to contact someone. She was also able to verify that this was not a call that this particular officer would have made.
So I can’t directly advise you on this because I don’t want to prevent you from responding to an important call from your local law enforcement. But, I do think its a good idea if you get a call like this to call the department directly NOT the number given on the message in question.
The following is the message I received
The following is a detailed account of the Scam, by a therapist who was recently targeted by it.
Perhaps you are more savvy than me and would have figured it out much sooner than me – but I escaped a really intense, stressful, clever scam this morning. It unfolded like this:
At 7:20am I received a phone call on my business cell phone from an unknown number. I don’t answer calls from unknown numbers and let them go to voicemail. I received a voicemail and immediately listened to it. A serious male voice said, “This is Lt. David Bowman from the Snohomish County Sherif’s office. I’m calling to contact Ms. Robin Barrie (mispronounced my last name). Ma’am, this call is very urgent in regards to a legal matter. So at your earliest convenience please return my call at 425-242-7374. Thank you.”
So I call him back. He is very nice and very official. He tells me that the call is being recorded. He says that I failed to appear in court on November 13 as an expert witness at an open court trial and because of this, the judge has issued a warrant for my arrest for failure to appear in court and for contempt of court. He lets me know that the judge declared this case a mistrial because witnesses did not show but because it’s a high profile case involving an child, all information regarding the trial, jury members, and all witnesses involved in the trial has been suppressed. He checks to see if I understand what this means and then he clarifies. I am not to speak of this to anyone because then I would be found in contempt of court again and would also put the person I am speaking to at risk of arrest. He tells me that the National Crime Information Center is also involved and that at this point in time, my phone is now being monitored by the NCI Center, including incoming and outgoing calls, all texts, and all data use.
I tell him that he must have the wrong person. He says my name again and spells it correctly. He says that a subpoena was issued to me at my home on October 16 and that I signed it. I ask what address this subpoena was delivered to and he gives me my address, asks if this is my address, I say yes. He proceeds to tell me that I have several options to take care of this matter. I can settle this matter through a civil arraignment or through the criminal law enforcement center.
If I choose to not settle this matter through a civil arraignment then a deputy will be sent to arrest me, I will be fingerprinted and detained for up to 72 hours. If I choose to settle the matter through a civil arraignment, we can do so through some kind of mobile arrangement (he gave the name but by this time I was so flustered I couldn’t track what he was saying very well – it was all sounding like gobbledygook.) The bail amount that was posted for each offense is $2000, for a total of $4000. I am to withdraw this in cash and go to a vendor who sells vouchers for bail bonds, purchase the voucher. At this point, I would confirm that the vouchers were being sent, and I could then contact my husband as I would then report to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office.
He gives me all of the details of what I am to do when I arrive at the sheriff’s office – check in at the kiosk with this case number, talk with the clerk about the subpoena, where I would then verify my signature or not. If it is not my signature, then they would act accordingly. If it was my signature, then I would be arrested for another offense.
I am to stay in constant contact with Lt. Bowman so he is assured I am not speaking of this to anyone and to maintain an open line of communication. If we get disconnected then the NCI Center will automatically reconnect. If I do not answer after the third attempt, then my case defaults to the criminal route, and I will be arrested.
He never asked me for any personal information. He had me state my name, the date, and time, and my understanding that I was choosing to settle this issue via a civil arraignment as a verbal affidavit that they would then have on record via the recording. I was to tell him my ETA for when I would arrive at the financial institution – and no I was not to tell him which institution this was. When I got in the car, he reminded me to put my seatbelt on and drive safely. If I was stopped for a routine traffic stop, then I was to inform the police officer of the situation, and Lt. Bowman would speak to him and I would not be arrested at that time. As I proceeded with the instructions, he checked in every 4-5 minutes, “Ma’am, is everything okay?” “Yes, everything is fine.” “Okay, ma’am, just continue to proceed to your financial institution and let me know when you are out of the car.”
This went on for 3 hours. Thank god the bank knew a scam when they heard one. They would not give me the money. (Yes, I went to the bank and attempted to withdraw the money.) When the bank would not give me the money, I told the man that I was going to drive to the police station. He said, “No, just stay there, take your keys out of the car. I am sending a deputy now to your location.” Then he said that he had his captain on the line.
So I spoke with Captain Miller, with his police radio in the background, who cautioned me about showing up at the sheriff’s office without proof of the vouchers being purchased, then I would be arrested on the spot. He went through the scenario again; I was not to send them any money, bring any money, no personal information given. This was not a scam, he assured me. He said that I was not the only one, that they were investigating other such incidents of people having their names forged on subpoenas. He strongly advised me to settle this matter through the civil arraignment as I would most likely have my practitioner’s license suspended and perhaps revoked. So I went to another branch of my bank, and they would not give me the money either. (Bless those bank tellers.)
I let these people on the other end of the line know that I was proceeding to the sheriff’s office. Lt. Bowman asked for my ETA, I told him, he said he was staying on the line until I arrived. I got about 5 minutes down the road, and the phone call ended. I drove into Everett, called the Snohomish County Clerk’s office to see if there was a warrant for my arrest. Of course there was not. She suggested that what would have happened is that I would have purchased these vouchers, they would have asked for the number on the bar code, and proceeded to whatever bail bonds center, and collected the money. When I gave her the details of this scam, she said that, while they have many people who get these kinds of calls, this one was over the top – making me stay on the line, isolating me from others with the threat of arrest, etc.
I have gone over this in mind throughout the day. They got me because they knew all of the words, “Lt. Bowman” was polite in an old fashioned way. They scared me first and then set it up so that I felt like I could not hang up the phone, talk to anyone. They had seen my website and my Psychology Today profile, so they knew that I see children from Snohomish County in my practice.
Looking back, I can see all of the places that I should have realized that I was being scammed. But they got me in the first 5 minutes. My cool rational thinking brain was offline, and I could not think clearly. Then it just got so weird that I didn’t know which end was up – I was gaslighted quite brilliantly. Part of me was quite admiring of their skill, the script, the psychology they used to get to me. And of course, I was furious and felt like such a fool.
So anyway, this is all to say – if a very official sounding police officer calls you and tells you that there is a warrant out for your arrest, hang up and call your county clerk’s office to verify this. And like my husband said, “Anyone asks you for any kind of money arrangement over the phone or email, then the answer is always ‘no.’ No matter what.” So that’s my hard and fast rule from here on out.