When a “deputy” with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office called Alley Mejia, 25, of Newnan Monday, she said she promptly answered her cell phone.
According to the “deputy,” Mejia missed jury duty and needed to fill out paperwork at the sheriff’s office on Greison Trail right away.
Mejia said the matter was so urgent, the “deputy” told her she must stay on the phone with him while she drove to the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was told not to get off the phone with them because I would be considered ‘noncompliant’ if I did,” Mejia explained. “Then they asked for an emergency phone number. I gave them my husband’s number and my mom’s number.”
Mejia said she began feeling uneasy and googled the number that called her. Sure enough, the number on her caller I.D. matched the same number listed for the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, she said.
“The person also gave me their name and badge number, which I later discovered also matched a real person with the sheriff’s office,” Mejia added.
What Mejia didn’t know as she left work and drove towards the sheriff’s office was those same “deputies,” now known to be scam artists, were also calling her mom and husband with a ransom demand.
“They told my mom and husband they had kidnapped me and were going to kill me if my family didn’t buy four $500 Visa gift cards and give them the credit card information over the phone,” Mejia said. “They told her if she did this, they would meet her at the store and return me to her.”
Mejia’s husband immediately called 911. Her mom drove as fast as she could to the nearest store, Mejia said.
“They were freaking out,” Mejia said.
At one point, the scam artists gave Mejia’s mom “proof” her daughter was still alive, Mejia said.
“They somehow connected us through a three-way a call,” Mejia explained. “I heard her voice for just a second, and I told her I was okay, but that brief conversation was really so my mom could hear my voice and know I was alive.”
Mejia said as she was pulling into the sheriff’s office parking lot, a call beeped in on her other line. Those digits also matched the phone number for the Coweta County Sheriff’s office. Mejia decided to answer the other line.
“By that time, my husband and the police were looking for me,” Mejia said. “The real sheriff’s deputies asked where I was and I said, ‘I’m in the parking lot, waiting for you like you told me.’
“A minute later, a real deputy walked out of the sheriff’s office and told me to hang up the phone and that the whole conversation was a scam,” she added.
Law enforcement officers also managed to reach Mejia’s mother to try and stop her from buying the gift cards. Unfortunately, her mother had already given the scam artists the codes to 2 Visa cards, Mejia said.
Mejia was reunited with her mom and husband at the sheriff’s office.
According to Sgt. Mark Callahan with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, the jury duty scams happen all the time, but are typically not as elaborate as the hoax played on Mejia and her family.
“Alley (Mejia) was pressured into giving the suspects a lot of information about her parents and husband,” Callahan explained. “The bad guys used that information to continue a more elaborate ruse.
“There are several websites that will allow you to ‘spoof’ or change your (phone) number to whatever you want it to be,” Callahan continued. “The offender will sign up for a ‘10 minute email’ and create a fake account.”
According to Callahan, it takes law enforcement officials a lot of work, hours and manpower to trace the fake accounts back to an offender. Many of the offenders are either already behind bars or live overseas, he added.
“The work to track (the scam artists) is almost never worth the reward of identifying an offender, so we try to educate people ahead of time and help them not get scammed,” Callahan said.
Mejia said her gut instinct told her the fake phone call might be a scam, but she was surprised by how much information the suspects knew about her.
“They clearly thought this out … they even knew what type of car I drive and important information,” she said. “And when I Googled the phone number and it came back as the sheriff’s office I thought it had to be real. The ‘deputies’ told me they were going to arrest me and hurt me if I didn’t comply. I was scared.”
“Offenders can find out all they need to about persons on the internet,” Callahan explained. “... The suspects also use pressure as a fear tactic so a victim won’t think clearly and will give them whatever information they want.”
Mejia said she hopes her misfortune will help someone else – before they fall victim to scam artists.
“The sheriff’s office said they’ll never call you, they’ll come find you,” she said. “These people (suspects) are very believable. If they say they’re the police and they’re looking for you, it’s probably not true.”