A phone scam gone wrong

Scam artists targeting Marengo County didn’t do their homework, and Sheriff Richard Bates enjoyed it greatly.

Laura Bates, the sheriff’s daughter, had just gotten off the phone at her dad’s house and asked him, “Daddy have ya’ll got a warrant on me?”

It seems the phone call was from the “Marengo County Warrant Division,” and the man on the line told Laura there was a warrant for her arrest for not showing up for jury duty.

Bates, realizing it was a hoax, had her call back the number the scammer had given her and listened in on speakerphone. It sounded very legitimate, said the sheriff. The voice prompt listed a menu of offices to select, including the Warrant Division.

The Marengo County Sheriff’s Office is so small, “we do not have a ‘warrant division’,” said Bates.

When Laura, at Bates silent urging, asked “Lt. Daniels” if there were a warrant on her, “You can actually hear paper rustling in the background,” said the sheriff.

The scammer gave detailed instructions on purchasing a gift card to cover the cost of the fine plus the bail bond fee and where to deliver the card.

Laura then said she didn’t understand how everything worked and would put her father on the phone.

“Write down my name,” Bates told the scammer. “Write down my phone number. When you call the number, they will tell you that I am the sheriff of Marengo County.

“You idiot,” he said. “You called my daughter at my house.”

The scammer laughed and said he was just trying to raise some money to help his mother pay some bills.

Bates traced the phone to Montgomery, but the trail ended there.

While Bates realized the call was not legitimate, others in the county fell for the scam, he said. There was one couple who followed the instructions and took out a card for $1,900. Fortunately, the instructions the scammer told them to follow were incorrect, but the hoax was so real that the victims were convinced to pay up.

“I tell everybody, we do not tell anyone to get money to pay fines,” said Bates. “The most important thing for people to remember is not to send money.”