My Valentine’s Day got a bit shaken up last week when I received a phone call. The caller ID read, “Hampton PD.”
I picked up the phone and a woman told me she was looking for “Alicia Preston.” I replied that it was me and she informed me, “I’m calling from the Hampton Police Department, because we have a warrant for your arrest, and you must turn yourself in at the Police Department by 2 pm tomorrow.”
Immediately, I was terrified. What did I do? Why would there be an arrest warrant for me? I was shaking. Despite my confusion and fear, I was able to calmly inquire what it was about. The “Hampton PD” caller told me it was related to a lawsuit, I had not replied to. Further inquiry and she informed me the charge was “theft by unauthorized taking.” That’s an actual crime. Panic was setting in. I told the person I hadn’t been notified of a lawsuit. She told me that was a civil matter, this is now a criminal one. I’m a criminal?!
She then informed me, that I could contact the law firm handling the lawsuit if I’d like to try to resolve it before my arrest. She gave the law firm name, phone number, and a case number. I thanked her for the information and said I would take care of it and hung up. Then I just stood there in my kitchen in a fog.
What do I do? Do I call this law firm? I started to dial. No. Hang up. Call a lawyer. Who do I know that is a criminal defense attorney? Wait a minute. Take a deep breath. I made a cup of tea to calm myself to figure out what to do. Then, I started thinking. The “Hampton PD” said they had a warrant for the arrest of “Alicia Preston.” That’s my maiden name. My legal last name is the funny one on this column that starts with an X. Wouldn’t an arrest warrant be my legal name? The one on my drivers license?
If I were being sued, wouldn’t I have been served with a lawsuit? How could I possibly have been sued to the point of it now being a crime, and I never knew about it? Then I started thinking of all the scams that are out that we see on the news and how sophisticated some of them are. I had an idea. Just because it said “Hampton PD” on the caller ID, doesn’t mean that’s the phone number it called in on. Scammers do that on email too. So, I click on “Hampton PD” in the call log to check the number. Uh oh. It’s the current phone number of the Hampton Police Department. After running every scenario through my head a million times, I decided the best thing to do was call the police and find out if they had a warrant for my arrest. There’s a call I never thought I’d make.
Guess what? There’s no warrant for my arrest, the whole thing is a scam. Had I called the “law firm” they would have given me a chance to settle the debt, by giving them money over the phone, to avoid me being arrested. They’re not lawyers or police, they’re just thieves.
Some of you are wondering how I could be so stupid as to fall for this, even briefly. I agree. I’ve passed the same judgment when I read news stories about people falling for what seems like an obvious scam. But, when you are the recipient of such a call, with the caller ID being your hometown police department, it is frighteningly believable.
I’m sharing this story to warn others. These criminals are very good at what they do and seniors are the greatest victims of these crimes.
In the aftermath, I spoke with Lt. Joe Villers of New Hampshire State Police about how prevalent these kinds of scams are and how to know if such a call is real. Apparently, these kinds of calls (and texts) are happening non-stop and because most originate from another country, there’s very little the police can do to bring the bad guys to justice, but they are trying. There are various versions of these calls. One is, you get a call from a lawyer, or a police department (they can spoof any number) saying a member of your family is under arrest and you have to pay to bail him out. It doesn’t work that way.
A few things I learned from Lt. Villers to help you figure out if something is real or not: Police will never tell you to call a third party, like a law firm, to settle a criminal matter, like an arrest warrant. Neither would the police call you for bail over the phone. Interestingly, the police wouldn’t call you at all in that circumstance, it would be the person who is under arrest that would call you. Lt. Villers advises, before giving someone information or money, pause and think it through. Is there any truth to what they are saying? How can I verify this? Such as calling the police department directly.
In this scourge of scams, the best consumer protection is keeping people informed, something the state is continuously working to do. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, contact the Consumer Protection Bureau of the NH Attorney General’s Office at: 1-888-468-4454 or DOJ-CPB@doj.nh.gov. If they don’t know, they can’t let us all know what should cause us to be wary.
Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos is a political consultant and former member of the media. She’s a native of Hampton Beach where she lives with her family and two poodles. Write to her at PrestonPerspective@gmail.com.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Preston Xanthopoulos: Here’s how I nearly fell for ‘arrest’ scam