Local law enforcement agencies warn residents of ongoing phone scams

St. Johns County law enforcement agencies are warning residents to be on the look out for a few different telephone scams that have cost some people thousands of dollars.


“Maybe in the last two weeks, we’ve had two or four people that have actually been scammed,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan told The Record on Tuesday. “We’ve had lots of phone calls about it.”

For awhile, those complainants were telling responding sheriff’s deputies that a man who identified himself as Sheriff’s Office Lt. Vance Berry had called them on the phone and told them they had missed jury duty, and required payment in order to clear the bench warrant for their arrest. The man asked for prepaid gift cards as payment and requested that the person read the card numbers to him over the phone.

One 66-year-old woman complied on Thursday and gave the man $1,500 in MoneyPak cards from Walgreens pharmacy, a Sheriff’s Office report shows.

That same week, a 73-year-old man in the St. Augustine Beach area lost $3,000 to the same type of call.

In a news release on Monday, the Sheriff’s Office said the person, or persons, making the fraudulent calls appeared to have switched up their game. Instead of identifying himself as Vance Berry, the male caller would say he is Shannon Borra, also with the Sheriff’s Office.

Borra, the release said, is a deputy sheriff, but happens to be female.

“In order to appear credible, these scammers may provide information like badge numbers, the names of actual law enforcement officials and federal judges, and courthouse addresses,” the release said. “They may also spoof their phone numbers to appear on caller ID as if they are calling from the court or a government agency.”

Mulligan said people should know that the caller could change again and end up claiming to be with another law enforcement agency.

“We also had one saying they were a U.S. Marshal,” he said. “U.S. Marshal Alvarez, they were using.”

Regardless, Mulligan said, the biggest hint that any such call is a scam is the request for payment by something like a wire transfer or gift card.

“Their radar should go off that this is a potential scam,” he said, “regardless of the story line.”

But it’s that story line — that ends with threat of arrest — that seems to be catching most people off guard and Mulligan warned people should be prepared because the caller can be pretty forceful when asking for the money.

“If they think you might believe them, they keep calling and calling,” Mulligan said.

“The guy is very brazen, very aggressive,” he said, noting that at least one of the callers had even spoken with an actual deputy on the phone, and he attempted to get the deputy’s name and badge number.

It is not the only scam authorities have seen recently.

A week ago, the St. Augustine Police Department, through its Facebook page, warned residents to be aware of “suspicious phone calls” from some someone pretending to be with Florida Power & Light.

That same day, a U.S. 1 South business owner called the Sheriff’s Office to report he had likely fallen victim to a caller who had done just that.

According to the incident report, the man said he got a call from a woman named “Sarah” who told him he had not paid his last two bills.

Because his caller ID said the call was from FPL and because she knew the total of his last two bills, he assumed the call was legitimate, the report says.

Despite bank records showing that his last two checks to FPL had cleared, but hoping to avoid having the power to his business shut off, the owner complied with the woman’s request and gave her the numbers to two $500 MoneyPak Green Dot cards over the phone, the report says.

And a Monday report, also from the Sheriff’s Office, shows that another man apparently lost $350 when he gave a Green Dot money card over the phone to a person he thought was selling him DirectTV service.

Mulligan said that although phone scams crop up from time to time in the county, this recent spate has gone on longer than usual.

“This is a spike we have seen in the last month and a half,” he said, “usually we see it for a week or two.”

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incidents, Mulligan said, but because technology makes it so easy for people to fake phone numbers, and because many scammers operate out of state and sometimes overseas, making an arrest can be hard.

“These people know what they are doing and it becomes very difficult,” he said.

In the Monday release, the Sheriff’s Office recommended residents never give out personal information based on a request by phone, email or text message and reminded them that Sheriff’s Office will never contact them by phone for missing jury duty.

In addition, the St. Augustine Police Department directed people to an FPL webpage (www.fpl.com/protect) that lists common scams to avoid.