Faux federal agents target unsuspecting residents

Faux federal agents target unsuspecting residents

By Anna Harris (Stock photo)

The usually law-abiding Robin Kershner did a double take after listening to a threatening voice mail left by a man claiming to be with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. But her surprise quickly gave way to suspicion.

The agent’s name, Kershner recalled, was Mike Rodriguez.

“It was so unusual,” said Kershner, a city resident. “It was [a] Saturday morning. … I listened to it, and it said, ‘This message is for Robin Kershner. We’re calling you regarding a matter in which you are involved. You’re wanted for questioning, and please call back … as soon as possible. If you don’t, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.’”

When she called back, she got a prerecorded message. That’s when Kershner decided to contact the DEA directly.

When she explained the situation, a DEA official on the other end of the line told Kershner that she had become the target of scam artists.

Kershner had been skeptical from the start, especially since the call came during the partial government shutdown. She figured the DEA wouldn’t be working on nonessential cases and making harassing phone calls about ordering prescription drugs online.

However, Kershner’s story is not an outlier. The conmen have targeted people across the country.

The ruse is straightforward: Identifying themselves as federal agents, the scam artists accuse people of illegally ordering prescription drugs online. The “special agents” claim to hold a warrant for their victim’s arrest.

But if the would-be mark just pays upward of a $1,000 — the figure varies from case to case — the DEA would drop the charges.

“Legitimate law enforcement would never call on the phone and say you’ve done something wrong and you have to pay us,” said Rusty Payne, spokesman for the DEA. “If you’ve done something wrong, we’re going to come and arrest you with a warrant.”

Kershner also thought it was odd that the message she received when she called back didn’t leave her the option of dialing an extension. But she said it sounded legitimate — at first.

“These guys are convincing,” Payne said. “They do a lot of research. They’ll find out names of DEA executives and the name of their chief of operations. You go on Google and [the names] come up. But of course that’s not who’s calling. They pretend to be them on the phone.”

The con artists often want the money sent to the Dominican Republic. While the scam might be based out of that country, according to Payne, people in the United States help them.

Payne said his agency has sought to publicize the scam. The goal? Starve out the ring through public awareness. But the tactics used by the schemers aren’t anything new to law enforcement.

“We’ve tried to make as big a deal about this as we can, and people are getting duped and are afraid,” Payne said. “They need not worry, not from legitimate law enforcement.

“People are frightened that they think it’s the government and frightened of the pushy phone calls. The elderly get pushed around, and they get really scared. … There’s been a large swath of those who’ve been duped.”

Payne and Kershner urge anyone else targeted by this scam to share their information at https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/esor/spring/main?execution=e1s3 or to call 877-792-2873.