FALMOUTH — In the 15 years dispatcher Lee Ruby has worked for the Falmouth Police Department, he had never received a call quite like the one that came in on Nov. 17.

It started with the caller claiming to be the grandson of a Falmouth resident and asking the dispatcher to send an officer to check on the woman because he wasn’t able to get in touch with her.

I had become acquainted with the family from previous scams that she had fallen victim to, so I knew the family dynamic and that she had relatives right near by,” Ruby said. “So I was able to ask more questions because his story wasn’t adding up. He was telling us there was no one else local and that he was out of state for work.” 

The scammer was probably unable to contact the Falmouth resident due to steps her family had taken to prevent her from being targeted for future scams, Ruby said.

In an effort to validate his fake persona as her grandson, the scammer tried to engage a more convincing source: law enforcement.

The dispatcher did an outstanding job asking corroborating questions and not taking the phone call at face value, which would be very easy to do,” said Falmouth Police Lt. Jeff Pardue, who has been with the department for 11 years. “We do welfare checks for folks on a regular basis and that’s what this caller was asking the dispatcher to do – send a law enforcement officer to this potential victim’s home and legitimize the fact that her grandson was, in fact, calling.”

Both Ruby and Pardue said they had never heard of a criminal calling the police directly to try and confirm their illegitimate identity to their target.

According to Ruby, the department receives about a dozen scam-related phone calls a day, most of them informing the department about various scams. Ruby said he’s seen an increase in these calls over the last year due to COVID-19 isolating folks from their families and support systems.

According to Pardue, the department saw a significant increase in unemployment fraud this past spring and summer, as well as scam calls related to business and the Paycheck Protection Program related to pandemic relief. He estimates that the upcoming tax season will result in another spike of fraudulent activity throughout the late winter and early spring 2021.

“It’s hard to quantify the increase of scam-related calls for service during the pandemic, simply because they are not all documented in our system the same,” Pardue said. “(T)he scam/fraud calls are certainly up during the pandemic, mostly attributed to government-supported programs as a response to COVID-19.”

Typical scams include callers saying they need to verify an individual’s identity through their Social Security number or banking information, Ruby said.

“As of lately, the most common ones that we’re hearing are gift card purchases, either due to grandkids needing money for bail or because they’re stranded somewhere else in the country,” Ruby said.

“These kinds of things have become more sophisticated over time and I can only imagine what the next rendition of this will be, but it will certainly keep us on our toes,” Pardue said. “We will remain vigilant and the public needs to as well.” 

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