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Call authorities if scam suspected

Con games and scams date back to ancient times, but new technology is arming those who aim to profit from such tactics with weapons that make it easier to deceive their victims.

This week, Denton County officials warned residents about a new telephone scam which, like many others we’ve heard about, threatens intended victims with legal action or arrest if they don’t pay fees or fines that they supposedly owe.

But unlike other such con games, this one has a unique twist — caller ID readouts on the intended victims’ phones indicate that the calls are from the Denton County Clerk’s office.

Nothing could be further from the truth, said Denton County Clerk Cindy Mitchell.

“Our Denton County collections office does make phone calls and there are employees who collect for the county and it’s nothing like this,” she said.

Mitchell said residents would be aware of payments they have to make due to court visits and signing payment arrangement plans.

“And when you miss those, they contact you, but always in writing first, never in the manner we are seeing,” she said.

Mitchell said county officials found out about the scam last week when her office received a call from a member of the public stating that a man named “Brian Burns” from the county clerk’s office had called and said that a lawsuit would be filed if a certain amount of money was not paid by credit card.

Other residents later reported getting similar calls, Mitchell said, including a couple from a man who claimed his name was “Detective Randal.” The calls threatened the recipients with an arrest warrant if they didn’t provide a credit card number.

In both instances, residents reported that their caller ID showed Denton County clerk numbers, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she has since posted warnings on her department and personal Facebook pages about the scam and the names involved.

Mitchell said one resident asked, “How should I know this is legitimate?” The resident was told by the caller that since the call came from inside the county clerk’s office, from Detective Randal, that should be proof enough.

Mitchell, who shared information about the calls with commissioners Tuesday morning, said she was concerned that whoever is behind the scam has a program or an app that makes it look like her department’s number.

“I have been contacting our investigator and our attorney in the DA’s office,” Mitchell said.

She said she does not know how big the scam may be and that this is a first for her office. Since the calls appear to be from the county clerk’s office because of the telephone number shown on the caller ID, Mitchell said, she wants to warn the public that the calls are not legitimate.

Most of us know that we should never give out personal information such as Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers to anyone over the telephone, but being threatened with arrest by an official-sounding voice calling from what appears to be a legitimate telephone number might give us pause.

However, as County Clerk Mitchell told us, official business is not conducted that way, and when in doubt, a good policy is always to hang up the phone and call authorities.

Such agencies as the Denton County Sheriff’s Office and area police departments are great resources when it comes to protecting yourself against scammers and con artists.

So don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

They can help make sure you don’t become a victim.