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Fraudulent scam calls increase during holiday season

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, Lynn Bear receives a phone call with area codes that match hers, making her believe someone is calling about an important matter for her or a family member.

The calls vary. Sometimes, they ask for her Social Security number and tell her someone has stolen her identity. Sometimes, they tell her a family member is in danger, and she needs to pay money over the phone to save them. Often, they find other reasons to demand urgent money or her credit card numbers over the phone.

Most times, they call from an area code matching hers to trick her into answering.



“You see a local number, and you think ‘maybe I should answer it,’” Bear said.

Cory Christensen, Steamboat Springs Police Department chief, said that tactic is common, especially around the holiday season and around senior citizens, who are more likely to be home and answer their phones.



The department has received 14 reports of fraudulent calls in the last 30 days, Christensen said, adding most of the calls either tell someone a law enforcement agency has put out a warrant for their arrest or their Social Security number has been stolen and the caller needs money.

“These people are very convincing, and it’s understandable how people fall prey to it because they’re preying on your utmost fears,” Christensen said.

Christensen said real law enforcement agencies would never ask someone for money over the phone, and while they might call to inform a citizen of a warrant for their arrest and encourage them to turn themselves in, he still encourages people to hang up the phone, call the department back and ask to confirm the warrant.

“We would rather citizens take the time to call us back than be robbed of their hard-earned money,” Christensen said. “We’re very understanding of that, we get it.”

Christensen said senior citizens are also often uniquely targeted with false calls about their family members being in jail. The caller usually tells the person being scammed they need to pay money over the phone to help the family member.

“No one legit will ever ask you for money over the phone, and if they’re saying you have to pay them with some form of financial device, that’s always a scam,” he said. “We have a lot of compassion for this, and we understand it’s embarrassing.”

While Christensen said these sorts of calls are less frequent in recent years, callers used to, and still do, ask the scammed victim to purchase a gift card and read the card number over the phone, giving the scammer money on the card without possessing the physical card.

“No legitimate organization is going to ask you to go find these gift cards,” Christensen said.

Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar agreed with Christensen and said the sheriff’s office has received an increase in calls about fraudulent unemployment claims since COVID-19 began.

In these calls, both he and Christensen said, the caller will tell the person they’re scamming that an unemployment claim has been filed under their name and ask them to provide their Social Security number to claim their money.

“The biggest advice is, you will never receive a phone call from Social Security asking for money,” Scherar said. “If there was an issue, you’d probably receive something in the mail.”

Both Christensen and Scherar also said calls tend to increase during the holiday season and advised people to verify the caller’s identity before providing personal information and never give money over the phone, as legitimate agencies would never ask for money over the phone.

“I think what makes it all the more alarming this holiday season is that we’ve got enough else on our minds that we’re concerned with,” Bear said. “It’s like taking advantage of someone at their lowest point, and what’s the point of that?”


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