Phone scams with variety of tactics on the rise in El Paso County

By: lisa walton
March 8, 2014 Updated: March 8, 2014 at 11:42 am
photo - Phone scams have been on the rise in Colorado since September. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Phone scams have been on the rise in Colorado since September. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) 

Reports of phone scams that attempt to extort money have been on the rise throughout the state since September.

The scams employ different methods to cheat victims out of money. Some use callers that say they're from the government. Others attach charges to victim's cell phone bills.

But one scam in particular has Colorado Spring police concerned.

High school student Maty Montoya,18, became a prospective victim of the scam when she received a a phone call at about 6:30 a.m. from a number she didn't recognize.

A male caller said her brother had given them her number because he had been seriously injured in an auto crash and needed to go to the hospital.

"I freaked out," Montoya said.

She told the man she was going to call police. But he responded angrily, saying there was an issue.

"The person that your brother hit is my brother, and he's in a gang and sells drugs and he's running from the law," Montoya said. "You can't call the cops, if you call the cops, we will kill your brother."

While Montoya said she began to question the credibility of the crash story, she was concerned for her brother's safety, so she played along. "I didn't know what they were going to do. What they were capable of," she said. "They kept saying, we'll just finish him off, we'll just finish him off."

The man told Montoya that everything would be OK if he she did what he said, and instructed her to bring $2,000to the scene of the crash, which he said was somewhere off Interstate 25.

Instead of following his instructions, Montoya and her sister drove to the police station, where the rest of their conversation with the scammer was recorded.

"Let's just drive to your mother's work, get the debit card, and everybody goes home," said the man who was now being recorded..

When Montoya protested, he said, "Ma'am, you gonna tell her that you need to buy something, that's all.". Montoya protested again.

"If you're gonna follow my orders let me know, and if not than I'll do what I gotta do. That's it, and I will finish this (inaudible) immediately."

When she refused again, the man could be heard instructing a man he called Jason to "go downstairs and do what you need to do to her brother."

"Yeah, throw him somewhere in the street after you finish," he said.

When Monotoya refused to comply again, the man hung up.

Minutes later, her brother called.

"He was at the gym the whole time, with his phone in the car," she said.

Montoya is the one of 10 people to report the phone scam to Colorado Spring police since September.

"It was awful," she said.. "You know that feeling in your stomach when it just drops," she said. "I thought my brother was dead or about to die."

In mid February, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office also sent alerts about the scam, reporting they had received three calls about it in two days.

In Montoya's case, a suspicious car was also spotted in the area in front of her house, but police are not sure whether it's related - or whether the scammers even live in the city.

"We have seen that they seem to have or find some information on family members, and then try to convince you that they know you," said Colorado Springs Police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley.

Montoya said that is what's particularly scary, when the caller said he knew her and was able to provide private details.

Police have partnered with the FBI on this issue, said Buckley. "It's something that happens across the country."

On Thursday, a victim of the same scam wired $500 dollars to a person who sold him the same story, Buckley said.

Because the calls are coming from a cell number, there's no way to pinpoint an exact location, and it's a hard scam to solve, Buckley said.

Police later discovered the call on Montoya's cell came in as a number from Puerto Rico.

Buckley said that anyone contacted under similar circumstances should ask for a call back number, notify police, and record the conversation if they can.

"Unfortunately it's a very emotional experience, and you want to make sure that your family members safe, but you need to contact the police department so we can start putting the cases together," Buckley said.

Other reports of phone scams have cropped up throughout the county in recent weeks.

In early February, the Better Business Bureau encouraged people to be cautious about returning missed calls from international numbers in a fraud referred to as the "one ring phone scam."

According to the BBB, people across the country are being targeted by the scam, in which automated phone calls go out to cell phones, ring once and then disconnect. People who return the missed calls are connected to an international adult entertainment service or chat line, and then are billed for the call. The charges show on up cell phone bills, but often go unnoticed.

"Those (calls) are potentially happening here in the Springs. They're happening nationally, and they can happen to anyone," said Crystal Johnston, director of marketing and events for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.

In February, the Colorado Attorney General's Office said only one case of the "one-ring" scam had been reported, though officials wouldn't say what city it was reported in.

In another scam reported in January, a man claiming to be an El Paso County Sheriff's deputy called a woman in the Widefield-Security area, and told her that she owed $500 for missing jury duty.

Douglas County authorities reported a similar incident at the beginning of February.

Neither office contacts people to pay for fines, either by phone or e-mail, officials said.

"If a scam does arise and you believe that you may be a victim, you always want to contact your local authorities," Johnston said.

Montoya agrees.

"I just want to make sure people know, go straight to the police."

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