News

Imposters posing as police to steal I.D.

By Wendy Giroux

Two suspects posing as Seattle Police Department detectives recently tricked an Island woman out of her credit card information.

Mercer Island police want other residents to be on the lookout for similar scams, and to remember never to release personal information without verifying the caller's identity.

``Never give your information out unless you're sure who you're talking to -- in most cases, that means you initiated the contact,'' Sgt. Lance Davenport said. ``If for some reason, you're not the one initiating contact, you need to do some verification.''

The recent case began when a 42-year-old woman received a call on the morning of Feb. 13 from a man who identified himself as a Seattle detective and said that he was investigating fraudulent activity on her credit card. The ``detective'' told the woman he needed to verify her account information, so she gave him her credit card number, the personal identification number off the back of the card and her cell phone number.

Throughout the day, she received several more calls from the same man and a second man who identified himself as a detective. It's unclear what the intent of those calls was, Davenport said, but most likely the suspects were trying to reassure the victim that it was a valid, ongoing investigation.

After talking with her husband, the woman reported the incident to VISA security, put a fraud alert on her credit account and called Mercer Island police to report the incident Davenport said. In the intervening hours, someone had already used the card information to get $551 in cash via Western Union and to make a purchase of an unknown amount from a mail order catalog.

``This is something that pops up from time to time,'' he said. ``It's getting more and more common because the thieves are always looking for an edge.''

Criminals pose as everything from police officers to lottery officials.

``A real police officer would never ask for that information in those circumstances,'' he said. ``If you had initiated a call to the police department saying you think there has been some fraud, then we're going to need that information but an officer would never initiate a call like that.''

In true credit fraud cases, victims typically hear first from their credit card company's fraud investigation unit. Many companies will contact a victim and give them a phone number to call back to verify specific charges on the victim's account. If residents receive similar suspicious calls, they should ask the caller for their phone number, then hang up and check with the credit company directly, Davenport said.

``This is another one of those kind of cyclical crimes,'' he said. ``I would suspect that if they were successful, they may hit a couple of victims and then go away for a while or hit another area.''

The case has been referred to Mercer Island detectives.

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