Tuesday afternoon I was sitting in my office, minding my own business and dreading the decision I made to give up my morning Dunkin’ Donuts run for Lent this year when I received a phone call from an Albany number. As someone who has passed out a lot of business cards with my cellphone number listed on them, I typically answer all unknown numbers during business hours.
On the other end of the call was a man with an Indian accent. He informed me my identity was under a criminal investigation. Excuse me, what?
He went on to ask if I had been contacted by my local law enforcement about the investigation. While I wanted to smart off to him and inform him I talk to someone in local law enforcement almost every day because of my job, I decided to simply tell him I had not been contacted. That’s when he said he would transfer me to his supervisor and I hung up.
Within seconds, my phone was ringing and the now-angry man was on the other end.
“Why’d you hang up? I am transferring you to my supervisor,” he said.
“Ok, can you please give me more information?” I said and as he decided to transfer me again, I hung up.
This is when Covington News Publisher David Clemons walked into my office, for an unrelated conversation and quickly joined in on the excitement.
During this time, I searched the phone number online and found it was the Albany location of the FBI office. That’s interesting. It is my understanding that if the FBI would like to investigate you, they’re going to find you through more than a cellphone call, but that’s just my understanding.
On the seventh phone call back to me, I decided to let this man transfer me to his supervisor and the conversation went a little like this:
“Hello, this is Supervising Officer Justin with the Georgia State Police.”
“Hi Justin, can you give me your last name?”
“(He said some multi-syllable word I could not understand).”
“Could you please spell that for me?”
“Okay, Officer Justin Thomas, could you give me your badge number?”
“911682. Ma’am, this phone call is being recorded and monitored by your local law enforcement at the courthouse so please make sure what you say is honest.”
“Ok.” (Side note: I contemplated offering to walk over to the Newton County Judicial Center because it’s located right next door, but I decided to let this play out on its own.)
“I’m sorry what did you say?”
“*deep sigh* All right, I arrest you now.” And he hung up.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I am now a fugitive on the run!
I immediately called the number back and got an automated machine at the FBI’s Albany office and I proceeded to the option to report a scam. I talked with a woman who informed me there was an ongoing investigation and arrests have been made for people attempting to get personal information through spoofing FBI phone numbers. She thanked me for reporting the call and told me to ignore them in the future. One last note before we got off the phone: She told me to never provide any identifying information over the phone no matter who the person claims to be.
While I was not fazed by this phone call, I can see how these types of people can be successful. I immediately thought of my grandmother. My grandmother is a talker (maybe that’s where I get it from). She is also pretty gullible. I wholeheartedly believe she would have been more than happy to talk to these men in an attempt to clear her name and of any “criminal investigation” that was being done.
Unfortunately for these guys, they didn’t get my grandmother on the phone; they got me. I wonder, however, how many people they spoke to Tuesday and how many people were willing to listen to them.
Here’s my word of advice from all of this: If law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation on you, they will find you. I don’t encourage ignoring law enforcement in an actual investigation, so if you receive one of these phone calls and think it could be real, make your way to the local police department or sheriff’s office and talk to someone in person to make sure.
Jackie Gutknecht is the managing editor of The Covington News. She can be reached at 770-728-1409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jackieg1991