Sewickley police among those warning residents to be wary of phone scams

Sewickley Borough Police Chief Jim Ersher takes a call in the community liaison office Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.
Sewickley Borough Police Chief Jim Ersher takes a call in the community liaison office Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.
Photo by Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Local police are reminding residents to be careful about what personal information they give out over the phone.

In the past few weeks, two Sewickley residents reported they either had been scammed out of money or the victim of an attempted scam.

One resident told police he had been swindled out of more than $1,500 over a two-month period this past fall after receiving a call from someone telling him his computer was infected with a virus.

When the resident reported the incident earlier this month, he told police the caller said they would need $10 and the man's bank account number to fix the issue.

A short time later, he noticed $768 missing and called his bank to report the transaction and close the account.

The man told police he was again contacted by the same individual who apologized for the mistake and said he would need the man's new account number to refund the money.

The man gave the caller his new account number and later noticed two withdraws of $405 from his account.

Sewickley Chief Jim Ersher said these types of scams are nothing new.

“It's a constant thing. People always have to be careful of what info they give out,” he said.

Like Sewickley, police in other areas around Pittsburgh said they sporadically receive reports from residents who have gotten phone calls from people trying to cheat them out of their money.

Police said the phone calls run the gamut of reports that a family member has been jailed in another country and money is needed for the person's safe return to promises that sending in a small amount of money will yield a big return.

“They take different forms all of the time,” Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott said.

These types of calls began to surface about 10 years ago as ever-growing technology has made them easier, Scott said.

Sewickley Capt. Rich Manko said the Internet makes it easier for crooks to target individuals.

“In today's age with Google and Mapquest (a person) can zero in on your house with search criteria,” Manko said.

“A little bit of information can be dangerous.”

In an effort to make residents aware, Scott said he typically reviews incidents of phone scams at borough council meetings.

In Ross Township earlier this month, officer Michael Thomas sent those on his Crimewatch email list a scam warning involving Duquesne Light.

Officials from the power company reported some customers receiving calls stating if a payment wasn't made, their service will be terminated immediately.

The customers were instructed to purchase pre-paid credit cards to pay off the alleged amount.

Duquesne Light officials said the company does not call customers on the day of a scheduled termination for non-payment, nor does it ask customers to purchase pre-paid credit cards to submit payments with.

When it comes to dealing with these types of calls, use common sense, police advise.

If the caller says a relative is in jail and money is needed for bail, try contacting the family member first before handing over money to a stranger, Scott said.

The same goes for callers claiming that you've won a sum of money, but must pay a fee in order to get it.

“If you won money, why would you have to give them money to get it?” Whitehall deputy police Chief Richard Danko said.

Ersher said the best line of defense is to know who you are doing business with and not giving out personal information over the phone.

“And if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

Stephanie Hacke contributed to this report. Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or

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