Aug 3, 2023 - News

Seattle residents: Watch out for this phone scam

Phone with evidence seal tape across screen

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office is warning residents about a new phone scam that involves impersonating law enforcement officials.

Driving the news: There's been a slew of victims reporting calls from people who claim to be law enforcement officers or deputies with the King County Sheriff's Office, according to Douglas Wagoner, a spokesperson for the prosecutor's office.

  • The scammer claims the victim failed to appear in court as a witness or in response to a subpoena, then claims the judge has issued a civil fine, a contempt of court citation and/or an arrest warrant.
  • The scammer claims the victim must pay through Zelle or a similar money transfer product to resolve the matter.

How it works: Scammers go to great lengths to appear legitimate, providing names and badge numbers that may belong to real officers, using fake case numbers and even referencing victims' current or past addresses, Wagoner said.

  • They may also "spoof" a phone number to make it seem like the call is coming from the Sheriff's Office, or — if you hesitate — use accomplices who are posing as police supervisors to call later and reinforce the scam.

What they're saying: "The King County Sheriff's Office will not ask you for money over the phone under any circumstances and will not tell you in advance that they are coming to arrest you," Wagoner told Axios in an email.

Be smart: If you question the legitimacy of a call, hang up. If you want to call the law enforcement agency directly, look up the phone number yourself rather than using the phone's redial function or clicking on a link provided by the suspected scammers.

  • You can report suspected scams to your local police and to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • The non-emergency number for the Seattle Police Department is 206–625–5011.
  • The King County Sheriff's Office 24-hour non-emergency phone number is 206-296-3311.
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