Scam artists are targeting health and wellness professionals. Protect yourself from being taken advantage of by knowing two of the most common scams running: the Warrant Scam and the Prepayment Scam.
The Warrant Scam
Several therapists have reported getting phone calls from an individual who identifies themselves as a sergeant or other high-ranking person in the local police department or sheriff’s office. In some cases, the scammer has even taken the time to look up a real officer’s identity, which they claim as their own.
They tell you they have an active warrant for your arrest, usually for a failure to appear in court in response to a summons or subpoena. However, you would have received no such document. They tell you that prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against you, and that if those charges go forward, you’ll be arrested and jailed.
Once they determine you’re sufficiently frightened of that possibility, they offer you an alternative: You can buy your way out of the impending arrest. Typically, this involves driving to a store to purchase gift cards, and then providing the caller with the activated card numbers. In some cases, the caller has demanded that the victim remain on the phone with them through the entire purchase process. Here’s a frightening first-person account from a therapist who experienced this scam.
How do I know it’s a scam?
It’s unusual for many health care professionals to have any contact with law enforcement, and the scammer takes advantage of this lack of familiarity with real criminal processes. You can’t be arrested over failure to appear for a court date you were never notified about. No legitimate police or court officer can have you buy your way out of a warrant simply by staying on the phone with them.
What should I do?
If you receive such a call (usually it will be from a local number), demand specific information—the caller’s identity and badge number, a case file, and specifically who the case is regarding—and then hang up and call your local police to let them know that this scam is happening in your area.
The Prepayment Scam
This scam takes more varied forms, but it fundamentally relies on a singular process: prepaying for services via cashier’s check. In one form of this scam, an individual calls or emails saying that they are out of town. They want to schedule an appointment (or several) for a family member who lives locally or will soon be visiting your area. They offer to prepay via cashier’s check, which they will send via overnight shipping.
It’s common for victims to believe that a cashier’s check is reliable because it comes from a bank, not an individual. However, cashier’s checks are easily faked. Many banks will happily deposit the check if you present it to them, and will make funds available the next day—leading you to believe the check has cleared. It hasn’t. Banks are required by law to make funds available for any check you present them that appears valid at first glance, but checks actually take 10-14 days to fully clear. They don’t get flagged (and ultimately rejected) until later in that process.
Soon after you deposit the check, the scammer gets back in contact to say that they are so sorry, but the family member will not be needing services after all, and could you please refund their payment. In some cases, they will even pretend to be “generous” by asking you to refund a bit less than the original payment amount, in exchange for your trouble. They typically ask that the refund be done through an instant electronic transfer system, like Zelle or Venmo. This should go without saying, but the companies that run those systems are not involved in the scam. They are victims as well, considering the time and resources they have to invest in combating schemes like this.
A few days after you process that refund, your bank tells you that original cashier’s check has been flagged as fraudulent. The bank will be clawing back those funds. So you’re out whatever money you paid as a “refund” for a check that has no value.
How do I know it’s a scam?
You may see this same scam pulled in different ways, including an out-of-town person wanting to rent office space you have available or purchase furniture or other supplies you’re selling. Some calling cards of this scam include that they want to buy the product or service sight-unseen, they want to pay by cashier’s check, and in some cases, they offer to slightly overpay as a request to “hold” whatever it is they say they’re wanting to buy.
What should I do?
If you have an offer from a non-local to prepay a large amount for any service you offer via cashier’s check, be skeptical. In the unlikely event that you accept such an offer, demand at least 14 days for the check to clear before providing any product or service or issuing any refund.
Please consider sharing this article with colleagues to help make them aware of these threats. If you have been the victim of one of these scams, or even an attempt at such a scam, report it to your local police. These scammers are committing serious crimes, and they’re taking advantage of health care professionals’ kindness and trusting nature.