Phone scammers try to extort money from local residents

Posted at: 08/05/2013 6:14 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A phone scammer tried to extort money from a Santa Fe woman, apparently using a website that is supposedly for people who want to play phone pranks.

It works like a pre-paid calling card. There are several providers online. They disguise your number and even change your voice – a terrific tool for a two-bit con artist.

When the phone rang the other day Mercedes Diener’s caller ID showed her husband’s name and his cell phone number, so she answered. But it wasn’t her husband on the phone. Instead it was some loud-mouth ill-mannered bad guy trying to extort money from her.

“When I answered the phone it was some guy at the other end yelling at me that I had wrecked into his car and caused a lot of damage,”  Diener said. “Broken headlights, bumpers, fenders, I don’t know what – he was yelling at me!”

Diener realized her husband was right there at home – in the next room.

“My first thought was that he was playing a joke on me,” Diener said. “Then I realized that someone had ahold of his phone number. That really unnerved me. That really freaked me out because they can do this to anybody, and then what if somebody did send the money!”

This sort of call is called “phone-spoofing” and it’s easily available on the internet. You pay for so many minutes and the service will allow you to change your caller ID to anything you want so the person you’re calling will never see your real phone number. You can even change your voice and add different background noises.

It’s a con-man’s dream – but there’s a hitch.

It’s a now a federal crime to use these spoof websites to defraud people or extort money. The guy calling the Dieners' home could be looking at a felony charge is he gets caught. In the meantime, they’ve changed their land-line number.