Sheriff’s officials have noticed an increase in the number of complaints from people claiming to have been tricked by jail inmates and others through a telephone scam. This routine involves members of the public calling the Sheriff’s Department and asking to speak to a specific deputy or sergeant who had allegedly just called them.
The real deputy who answers the phone explains they are mistaken, as the named deputy does not exist or is not on duty.
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The scam begins by the victim caller receiving a call from a person claiming to be a deputy. This imposter tells the victim that one of their family members has been incarcerated or involved in an accident. The imposter then informs the victim caller that their family member provided the victim caller's name as an emergency contact.
The victim caller is then instructed to call a number that begins with *72 (Example: *72-323-555-1212) to get the information they will need. When the victim caller hangs up and dials the number provided, they are told they have a wrong number.
Concerned for the safety of their family member, the victim caller then calls an information line (4-1-1) and asks for a number to the Sheriff's Department. They are then connected with a real deputy.
However, since the victim caller used the prefix *72 to initiate their last phone call, they have just automatically forwarded all their incoming calls to the scammer's phone number (These include collect calls from inmates who want to avoid paying for collect calls). The billing for these forwarded calls goes to the victim caller until they turn off call forwarding on their phone (usually by dialing *73).
If not careful, victims can be scammed out of a lot of money in collect-call fees before they find this out. The message: do not dial *72 unless you want to forward your calls.
If you have been involved in this scam, and you have already dialed a number beginning with *72, contact your phone service provider to learn how to shut off automatic call forwarding.
This scam has become serious enough for the California Public Utilities Commission to issue an alert and advise customers on recourse. If this does happen to you, call your phone company to dispute the charges and report it to the California Public Utilities Commission’s consumer hotline at 800-649-7570.