An international extortion scam involving criminals posing as Drug Enforcement Administration special agents and other law enforcement personnel has hit the Bay Area. George Kiriyama reports.
The phone rings. A man in his south Hillsborough home picks it up. On the other line is someone claiming to be a DEA agent. The only thing...he wasn’t. Authorities say he was an imposter.
"And they're calling and trying to extort money out of the victim," said Hillsborough Police Capt. Doug Davis. "They've told the victim that they ordered some type of prescription drug over the Internet and that it's a violation of the law and the imposter at that point tries to secure a credit card number or bank account number from the victim in order to pay a fine for that violation."
The victim, whose name was not released, had purchased prescription drugs online. But during the call, there was a red flag.
"And at that point, the person on the phone was trying to set up some method of payment whether it be credit card or wire transfer and the resident had the common sense to end the phone call immediately and called us," Davis said.
Amaya Coccodrilli, a Daly City native who now lives in Pennsylvania, buys prescription drugs online. She had no idea this scam was going on.
"If you're a law abiding citizen, it would capture your attention. We're relying on technology for greater access and we're getting to a point in our society where we have to start thinking about how do we make it a safer transaction," Coccodrilli said.
Hillsborough police say the victim in this case was lucky. No money was lost. But a couple of months ago, someone in San Mateo County was scammed to the tune of $17,000.
"The unfortunate things in these types of fraud is generally the victim is out the money," Davis said.
While the DEA is trying to figure out if hackers are getting personal information from actual prescription drug sites, Hillsborough police say under no circumstance will someone from law enforcement ask you for money over the phone. They say this particular scam and throw people off at first.
"Because there is that small bit of real information that the caller's providing the victim so that in the initial stages of the phone call, the victim maybe drops their guard a little bit because they have actually made purchases of pharmaceuticals over the Internet," Davis said.
Impersonating a federal agent is a violation of federal law. If you get a phone call from someone posing as one and asking for money, refuse the request and call the police. You can also call this number that the DEA has specifically set up for this situation at 877-792-2873.