Feds Bust Scammers Who Collected $5.2 Million By Pretending To Be Cops

As you probably know, it’s illegal for a debt collector to threaten arrest over a debt. It’s also a big no-no to try collecting on a debt that doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop a California man from operating a scheme where callers allegedly posed as law enforcement officers to collect on bogus debts.

According to a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, the operation took in around $5.2 million in less than two years. During that time, at least the defendants are said to have made more than 2.7 million calls to at least 600,000 phone numbers.

From the FTC statement:

Often pretending to be American law enforcement agents such as “Officer Mike Johnson” or representatives of fake government agencies like the “Federal Crime Unit of the Department of Justice,” callers from India who were working with the defendants would harass consumers with back-to-back calls, according to the FTC. One consumer reported that the caller threatened to have her children taken away if she did not pay, according to court documents.

Another consumer told the FTC, “The callers threatened me and claimed they would arrest me if I didn’t pay them the alleged debt. One of the callers even contacted my neighbors and told me he was watching my house. The callers had a lot of . . . personal information about me, including my work address. One caller told me, ‘We just saw you walk into your office building,’ and then listed my office address. Another caller told me there were 55 warrants out for my arrest. Sometimes my caller ID would indicate that the call was from the FBI. Because the callers knew so much about me, I believed they were police officers or FBI agents. The calls scared me and I was often shaking when I hung up the phone.

If the callers were successful in convincing the call’s recipient to pay up on the bogus debt, the victims were told to put the “owed” amount on a pre-paid debit card like a Wal-Mart MoneyCard, a credit card, or to wire the money via Western Union.

“Even after victims made a payment, the harassing calls often continued,” writes the FTC, “forcing them to change their phone numbers, or close their credit cards or bank accounts in an effort to get the calls to stop, according to documents filed with the court.”

A U.S. District Court in California has granted the FTC’s request for a temporary order which stops the defendant from continuing on with the operation and freezes the its assets.

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  1. vorpalette says:

    It’s really sad that people actually believe this kind of stuff. If there was a warrant out for your arrest, you’d know it (or know that you had definitely done something to cause it), and if the FBI called you, the caller ID would probably NOT say “FBI.” People really need to be more informed about this kind of stuff. :

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “and if the FBI called you, the caller ID would probably NOT say “FBI.” “

      Unless of course it’s from the Faith Based Initiative

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      “We are going to arrest you on your 55 warants unless you send us a Wal-Mart gift card!” – FBI

    • Aliciaz777 says:

      While its easy to place blame on the victims, I really have more pity than blame for them. If your never been arrested or had any run ins with the law, hearing “We’ll have you arrested!” can send someone into a panic and they’ll do anything to avoid being arrested.

      Yes, people need to be more informed of what’s illegal and not illegal, what debt collectors can and cannot do, but scare tactics work sometimes, and scammers prey on those fears.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    They said “Occifer” Mike Johnson, so technically they didn’t break any laws.

  3. DJ Charlie says:

    And yet the REAL cops can’t stop freaking inmates from calling my cellphone day and night.

    • 8bithero says:

      To be fair, prisons are a private industry in America.

      Those are “employees”.

      • Maz says:

        The concept that we can make incarcerating American citizens a profitable ‘growth’ industry is scary. For some reason I forsee debtors prisons making a comeback in 50 years.

    • Free Legal Advice! says:

      Most of the phone systems I have worked with in jails allow the person recieveing the calls to block all future calls. At least, that’s how my local jail and state prisons work. If you don;t have such an option, call up the local jail and ask to speak to somone about the phone calls. Before we got GlobalTel to take over our local acount, we had the ability to block specific phone numbers.

      • DJ Charlie says:

        It doesn’t give that option, and when I called the jail about it, they said “We need either the name or inmate number of the person calling you before we can block it.”

        The recording I get says “This is a collect call coming from the Maricopa County Prison. An inmate by the name of “Hey, pick up” wishes to speak with you. Press 1 to accept the charges, or 2 to hang up.”

        6-8 calls a day, and it’s 3-4 different voices. I live in Kentucky, and don’t know anyone in Arizona, let alone anyone in jail there.

        What REALLY cheeses me off is the jail’s website says the automatically block collect calls to cellphones.

  4. dolemite says:

    It makes you feel safe when we are outsourcing all our mortgage, credit cards, and other personal information to India, and scams like this start turning up.

    • az123 says:

      Um, for the FTC to be going after people and getting an enforceable court order in CA the people running this scam were located in the US

      • dolemite says:

        Yeah, but they were working with people from India, whom we can’t touch.

        • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

          It’s too bad we can’t block incoming calls from other countries, but they spoof caller ID numbers, so how would you do this? I think there should be a way to block any non-legitimate area code or local exchange, like 000. That should be a standard feature on all US teleco’s, and at least would be a good start.

  5. crispyduck13 says:

    Jesus H. Christ…what the hell is wrong with people?

    • Cat says:

      I’ve always wondered, what does the “H.” stand for?

      • Blueskylaw says:

        “I’ve always wondered, what does the “H.” stand for?”

        Herbert – it’s called a middle name.

        • Cat says:

          I always thought Jesus’ middle name was Fuckin’.

          • DarthCoven says:

            “Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ-on-a-Cracker” is his full name

          • HogwartsProfessor says:

            My favorite was in Stephen King’s novella The Body, where the character Teddy says, “Jesus H. Baldheaded Christ.” The first time I read that, I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants.

      • DarthCoven says:

        From Wikipedia:

        Using the name of Jesus Christ as an oath has been common for many centuries, but the precise origins of the letter H in the expression Jesus H. Christ are obscure. While many explanations have been proposed, some serious and some not, the most widely accepted derivation is from the divine monogram of Christian symbolism. The symbol, derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus (ŒôŒ∑œÉŒøœçœÇ), is transliterated iota-eta-sigma: IHS, ŒôŒóœπ (with lunate sigma), JHS or JHC. Since the transliteration IHS gave rise to the backronym Iesus Hominum Salvator (Latin for “Jesus, savior of men”), it is plausible that JHC similarly led to Jesus Harnaldo Christ,[3] Harold coming from the mispronunciation of the word “hallowed” of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name.” The H has also been said to stand for “Holy.”

      • Jane_Gage says:

        It stands for “haploid” because Jesus Christ did not have a genetic input from a biological, terrestrial female.

      • GoldVRod says:

        Ahh. In the original bible the wise man who was carrying the gold accidentally dropped it on his foot and exclaimed “Jesus!” in pain. Mary then said “That’s a great name… I was going to call him Harry”. Hence Jesus H Christ.

      • yankinwaoz says:

        Harold…

        It says so right in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our father, who art in heaven. Harold be thy Name…”

  6. Cat says:

    If someone calls to collect a debt and says they are the police, FBI, etc – they probably aren’t the police. Police don’t generally get involved in debt collection.

    If the police really want you, they won’t call. They’ll come get you.

    • thesalad says:

      Or they’ll personally drop off a piece of paper indicating that you owe said debt

      • Lyn Torden says:

        A court summons says no such thing. A summons says that someone filed a complaint alleging that you owe such a debt, and the court is giving your the opportunity to dispute the claim.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Police don’t get involved in debts unless the court directs them to in some way, such as delivering a summons, executing a judgment seizure order, or taking you in to see the judge if there is a court order against you.

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    It’s so sad that people fall for this. I’d simply tell these idiots to come right over. My next call would be to my local and state police. Scammers like this belong in a special circle of hell.

  8. steam says:

    A temporary restraining order? How about arrest for impersonating a police officer or even better a federal (law enforcement) special agent? These collection agencies are really the lowest form of life on this planet. It’s hard to believe people would fall these scams but there again the poor s.o.b in debt probably is living in a world of hurt and worry. Don’t rely on caller ID as most law enforcement agencies do NOT have “FBI” or “City Police” features…for good reason. Only crimminal matters not debt or civil matters involve law enforcement.

  9. Lyn Torden says:

    Hey, who stole the article link? Someone quick, call the Feds.

  10. scoosdad says:

    Jeez, how hard would it be to require phone companies to check and verify the accuracy of each call’s caller ID information before passing it on to the recipient? Seems like this huge loophole allowing these kinds of calls to hide behind a fake caller ID ought to be plugged.

    Part B of that would be to require phone companies to allow subscribers to permanently block an unlimited number of incoming calls, and to permit a fast easy way to add an offending number to the block list, like pressing *61 within two minutes of ending a call, with maybe a web page to manage the numbers you’ve previously blocked (like my VOIP provider does). The FTC would see its complaint level plummet, and these guys would have no reason to stay in business once you could accurately identify the source of the call and block it from ever calling again. And as phone companies roll out both of these features, it would give consumers a reason to choose to use them over a company that wasn’t providing it yet. Why is that so hard?

  11. One-Eyed Jack says:

    There is not a punishment harsh enough for these kinds of crooks. Hope they rot in jail for a long, long time.

  12. Aliciaz777 says:

    A debt collector called for my husband about 8 months ago, but since he was at work, they talked to me. They told me that if my husband didn’t pay the debt, that a warrant would be issued for his arrest. I told them it’s illegal to threaten to have someone arrested over a debt and that I was reporting them for making the threat. They hung up and haven’t called back since.

    Oh yea, the debt they called about? It doesn’t exist.

  13. mydailydrunk says:

    are those calls from the PBA going to stop now too?