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Davis County sheriffs battle bad check scam

Published January 24, 2013 1:01 am

Law enforcement • Scammers threaten victims with arrest unless they send cash.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The call came while Bonnie Perez was working the grill at her job on Hill Air Force Base. When the Clinton woman picked up the phone, a man on the other end threatened to send her to jail.

"He told me that I needed to pay basically $900," Perez said of the man, who also claimed to have a federal arrest warrant for her.

But Perez didn't have any outstanding bad checks. She didn't owe any money. And when she called the Davis County Sheriff's Office she discovered there were no warrants for her arrest.

Authorities say Perez was targeted as part of a new scam in which someone — police still don't know who — calls victims and claims they wrote a bad check. The bad check resulted in an arrest warrant, the story goes, and the scammers then demand money to resolve the issue.

The calls have come from out-of-state numbers and have targeted people who may have written a bad check in the past, said Davis County Sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Poulsen.

Poulsen went on to say that deputies are aware of three separate times the scam has occurred in their jurisdiction. The first incident happened in September, Perez was contacted in December, and the most recent report came in earlier this month. According to Poulsen, investigators have no idea how the scammers are accessing victims' information.

But however they got her number, Perez said the call left her frantic.

"I freaked out," she recalled. "I started stressing out and crying."

Perez said that in 2005 a fire destroyed her home and left her with nothing. She ended up borrowing from check loan companies, so her initial thought was that something she overlooked had finally caught up with her. Fearing that officers were on their way to pick her up, she quickly contacted family and asked to borrow the money.

Perez's aunt eventually stepped in, contacting authorities again and helping the family determine that the call was a scam. Perez said it just barely saved her from throwing away money she doesn't have.

According to Poulsen, investigators later took the phone number Perez had saved — as well as numbers from other victims — and played along, calling back and claiming to be sending the money. But just before completing the transaction, the investigators revealed themselves as cops. The scammers hedged then finally hung up, Poulsen explained.

Poulsen said none of the three known victims fell for the scam, but authorities fear that others have been or will be targeted and will pay out of fear before contacting police.

She also stressed that real authorities don't call people out of the blue and threaten to arrest them for a bad check. Instead, debt collection issues must work their way through the courts and all warrants are handled in person. Poulsen added that people should not wire money to strangers.

Poulsen encouraged potential victims to always check with their financial institution to see if there are any actual debt collection cases against them. She also said victims or people with concerns can contact the Utah Division of Consumer Protection or the Federal Trade Commission.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

Bad check scam

Davis County authorities say someone is calling people and threatening to send them to jail for writing bad checks. Anyone with information is urged to call the Davis County Sheriff's Office at 801-451-4100.