Olean Police Department

Olean Police Department vehicles sit parked outside the Olean police station on East State Street.

OLEAN — If your caller ID says the Olean Police and the caller is asking for money, just hang up.

The Olean Police Department reported a number of city residents have been receiving phone calls claiming to be police and threatening the recipient with jail time if the victim does not pay up immediately — often to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Police Capt. Robert Blovsky of Street Crimes said that not only is such a tactically-unsound advance notice of arrest not police procedure, but city cops don’t badger people for money at all — and such calls are scams.

“That’s not something we’d do — we’d just come to your door and arrest you,” he said. “We don’t arrest people for civil matters, we don’t deal with money — we don’t get involved with that.”

At least one resident has already been taken by the scam, Blovsky said.

“I had a guy about a month ago send out $8,000 — we got to him before he sent anything else out,” he said. “I feel so bad for these people — it’s horrible. It hurts me to watch people lose their savings.”

In that case, the scammers also sent the victim a briefcase to hold onto, warning the man not to open it.

“I convinced him to open the suitcase — and it was old shower curtains,” Blovsky said.

Another case from the past week had a happier outcome, thanks to a family member checking with police.

“Luckily, I got to one (Thursday) as they were getting ready to send out $5,000,” he said.

In that case, the victim’s daughter reached out to police to verify the story.

“These guys are so convincing,” Blovksy said, noting the callers are also relentless. “They were calling while I was there. It popped up on her caller ID — she had it set up so it came up on her television, ‘Olean Police Department.’

He said he understands why a frightened victim would send out cash without checking it out first.

“The word ‘arrest’ comes out and people get upset,” he said. “A lot of them don’t have smartphones, they don’t understand the apps that let you change what Caller ID says.”

The Federal Trade Commission offers a series of tips for those receiving suspicious calls, often from individuals with foreign accents.

  1. Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.
  2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
  3. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
  4. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
  5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards (like MoneyPak or Reloadit) and gift cards (like iTunes or Google Play). Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
  6. Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you.
  7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus.
  8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel.
  9. Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
  10. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/scams. Get the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)