By Lucas Lord
The Peculiar Police Department is advising the public to be aware of a telephone scammer who has been impersonating a police officer.
In a social media report last week, the department said: “We were notified that an unknown individual has been calling our citizens and identified themselves as a Peculiar police officer and asking questions about ongoing investigations. Our officers will always identify themselves and can be confirmed as police officers by contacting our dispatch center after hours, or by calling the police department directly. Do not give out any important information unless you are absolutely sure it is safe to do so.”
According to officer James Kirkpatrick of the Peculiar police, the scammer has been spoofing the department’s caller ID.
Said Kirkpatrick, “I’ve been with the Peculiar Police Department for 24 years and we have never had an issue like this before. Whenever the scammer would call, the number that would come up was the Peculiar Police Department’s, but it was spelt ‘Peculair’, so it had just a couple of letters that were out of place. They probably just glanced at it and didn’t even realize it was misspelled.”
According to Kirkpatrick, none of the people who reported receiving a phone call gave out the information that was being asked for.
“From what we were told the only thing the scammer would say is that they were following up on an investigation of some type,” he said. “Thankfully the first person (who got called) was smart enough to realize it wasn’t legit and they hung up on them.”
Kirkpatrick said that oftentimes scammers will hold something hostage in exchange for money or valuable personal information.
“If they had continued the conversation with the scammer, I bet they would have started to say something to the effect of, ‘Well, to look at this report than you are going to have to give me this or that like your social security number, date of birth, or some other personal information,’” he said.
There are a number of ways to verify the identity of an officer according to Kirkpatrick.
“When people get calls like that it’s important to note that any real officer would identify themselves as a police officer first,” Kirkpatrick said. “The officer would give you their name and badge number. They would also have a police report that they can share with the person. If someone was needing to follow up with them on a police report, then they would already have a case number they could provide. A scammer wouldn’t have access to any information like that nor would they know who to identify themselves as. I am always telling people to double check and ask, ‘hey, what was your name again? What was your badge number?’ It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
While impersonating a law enforcement officer is a Class-A misdemeanor in Missouri, phone scammers rarely face conviction.
“There’s of course the charge that goes along with impersonating an officer, but as far as being part of a phone scam it’s hard to identify the perpetrators involved because a lot of times they cover their tracks really well, especially if it’s someone from overseas,” said Kirkpatrick. “It is hard to get a criminal charge from a prosecutor on scams because people are willingly giving their information out. When it comes to impersonating the identity of a police officer, then it becomes a whole different matter. There are specific charges for that which are a lot easier to prosecute someone with rather than someone simply being deceptive on a phone scam.”
Unfortunately, scams like this one often target the elderly.
“The elderly is a demographic that is routinely preyed upon,” said Kirkpatrick. “If you believe you have received a phone call from a scammer, at a minimum we are asking that you make us aware of it. If you did give your information out and you feel that you are a victim of identity theft or feel that your identity has been compromised, then we can help you make a report. We also have tons of printed material on how to rescue your identity and prevent identity theft in the future. There are certain things we would never ask for over the phone. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”