JACKSON — The Teton County Sheriff’s Office has seen a rash of calls this week regarding scammers posing as local law enforcement officers to extort money or personal information.
“There’s been a wave of phone scams this week where the caller is using deputies’ names,” Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said. “They tend to target things by ZIP code, working in a certain area at a certain time. They’re probably pulling our deputies’ names off the internet.”
This week, Dispatch Manager for the Sheriff’s Office Riclyn Betsinger said that although she hasn’t been tracking the number of scam-related calls she has received, she estimates she has fielded 30 to 40 this week from people who are reporting scammers.
“What’s different this week is they’re posing as law enforcement and using law enforcement names,” Betsinger said.
“Sometimes they’re even sending it through our law enforcement numbers so [the phone call] shows up as dispatch.
“People are getting calls about missing jury duty, scammers saying because you missed jury duty you now have to send some kind of money,” Betsinger said. “Or that you have a warrant out for your arrest, so you have to pay to take care of it.
“A lot of time they’re phishing for identity information, so they will ask you to confirm your personal information on something, and then they’ll steal identities that way.”
Another red flag is a request to pay for your so-called debt using gift cards, which are untraceable.
“Scammers will ask people to go to Albertsons or Target to buy eBay gift cards or something like that because there’s no way to track it,” Betsinger said. “Recently we had people posing as Lower Valley Energy calling people saying you have to go purchase gift cards. I believe a few people bought them.”
Although Betsinger said a wave of scams “happens every few months,” Carr said his concern has been that even folks he considers to be sharp and “very astute businesspeople” are feeling unclear enough to call and verify.
“It’s a lot of very intelligent people that are calling,” Carr said. “They’re getting hooked enough to call us to try to confirm. The scammers are very, very good at what they do.”
Carr added that the scammers often “prey on the elderly,” and that the recent evolution of spoofing local numbers has added to the confusion.
Betsinger offered some blanket advice to folks who receive requests from “agencies” such as the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security Administration to send payment or personal information.
“The biggest thing is, most of these agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, aren’t going to be asking for money over the phone,” Betsinger said. “Most of the time if you did owe money of some sort, they’re going to ask for that in writing.”
Carr doubled down on that, citing specific instances when the Sheriff’s Office would call you.
“We don’t ever call asking anybody for money. Ever,” Carr said. “The only time we’ll call is for paper service. We’ll either ask you to come in and pick it up or have a uniformed deputy deliver it to your house. We don’t take money at all.”
Another scam entails efforts to blackmail middle-schoolers and high-schoolers.
Jackson Hole resident Devon Viehman said that in her weekly parents’ circle she has heard of six instances over the past six weeks of kids being extorted using graphic photos.
“I’ve heard from multiple parents that scammers are photoshopping their child’s head onto a graphic murdered body, saying, ‘This will happen to you and your family if you don’t send me money,’” Viehman said.
Scammers have also been photo editing the heads of children onto naked bodies.
“They’ll say, ‘Send money or I’ll post this [nude photo of you] on Instagram,’ ” Viehman said. “I saw one scammer tagged a child on Instagram and said, ‘Are you friends with so and so? Let me know and I’ll send you a picture.’ ”
Viehman said that, to her knowledge, the fake pictures hadn’t been posted and no money had been sent to the scammers.
“One child was so scared, she wouldn’t go to her after-school job,” she said, adding that the pictures she saw were “very graphic and very well-photoshopped.”
Viehman shared information for parents that she received from a therapist. The therapist told Viehman it’s common for children to feel embarrassed or feel that they did something wrong in such situations.
“The main thing is having that conversation before it happens,” Viehman said. “Saying to your kid, ‘This is happening here, and if you receive something, tell me about it. You don’t need to hide it from me. You’re not going to get in trouble, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. We just want to keep you safe.’”
The sheriff’s office doesn’t have a way of tracking these scams locally, so it refers people to a few federal resources.