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Alert: Beware of a Current Scam in Knoxville

The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto encourage you to be on the lookout for a popular scam in Knoxville. The “bail bond” scam has once again returned to our area. This is  one of the classic phone scams and it keeps coming back every couple of years because it is so successful. Someone even tried to pull this scam on my own grandmother a few years ago. Here is a bit of information about this scam so that you can be aware and protect yourself.

The Concept

A person calls you and convinces you that a family member or friend is in jail. You are then told to transfer money (usually through Western Union) to either pay for a bail bond or for attorney fees. Often, the scammer tells you that the family member or friend is in jail in another country. This helps to put fear in you of an unknown legal system. Of course, your friend or family member is not in jail and the scammers take the money and disappear.

How Do They Trick You?

This scam typically targets the elderly. There are several approaches the callers may use in an attempt to gain your trust.

  • Often the scammer will call tearful and sobbing. The caller is hard to understand, apparently because they are so upset. They will not say who they are, but instead make you guess. For example, when they called my grandmother, the caller simple sobbed, “grandma?” into the phone. Everyone, including my friends, called her grandma. It was up to her to put a name to the voice. That way, it seemed alright in her mind.
  • Other times the scammer will pose as someone in the community that you would be inclined to trust. This might include an attorney, a church leader, or the police, or they may use a professional sounding name, firm, or title to gain your trust.
  • Sometimes, a person will even receive both calls. The scammer will first call as the person who needs the money to get out of jail. Then, if you do not immediately buy into the scam, a second person calls claiming to be an attorney trying to help the person get out of jail.
Local Variation

In 2012 a person posing as a Knoxville police officer committed a similar scam. He went to several business and pretended to be a cop. He would tell the businesses that the owner had been arrested and need bail bond money. Six businesses became victims by handing over money.

What Should You Do?

Scammers use fear to go after people in need. In this case, they are trying to scare you into reacting before really thinking logically. Here are some things you can do if you receive a call like this scam:

  1. Do not give personal information to people you do not know. These scammers are professionals and can use the details you provide to make the story better.
  2. Do not give anyone money in a panic. If you give them your account number, you can say goodbye to all of your money. If you wire money using Western Union or similar services, that money is almost never recovered.
  3. No matter how upset or desperate the person is on the phone, insist on making a few follow up calls before doing anything. If the scammer says that the person is being held in jail in the United States, call the local law enforcement. You can also call other friends and family. This is what my grandmother did. Two calls later and she was talking to the person that was supposed to be in jail. He was safe and at home. Even if you know you are being scammed, a few phone calls can help give you piece of mind and calm you down.
  4. Report this to the police and to the State Attorney General’s office. The local police will put out fraud alerts and the Attorney General’s office has investigative departments just for fraud.
  5. Be especially vigilant if someone you know is travelling overseas. With all of the use of social media, people are letting the whole world know when they are out of town. If, for example, your grandson is going to Italy, he probably shared that on social media where it is likely to be shared many more times. Soon thousands of people, including many that he does not know, will know that he is leaving the country. Think before you act. Contact other family members. Request a return phone number from the caller and call the US consulate to confirm the number. Check your friend or family member’s social media accounts. If in doubt, contact the police and the state attorney general’s office.

Give us a call at (865) 691-2777 or contact us through our website Brown & Roberto, PLLC to set up a free consultation.

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