Resident warns of scam calls by false law enforcement

Thursday, January 24, 2019
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Big Horn County resident Martin Heth Sr. holds up his phone, which shows a series of calls from a scammer looking to gain access to his Social Security or Medicare account.

After receiving five scam calls in under three hours, a Big Horn County resident who lives north of Hardin would like to notify the public of a con job by a person claiming to be an officer of the law.

According to Martin Heth Sr., a man left messages on his phone last Thursday afternoon saying “some illegal activity” was found on his Social Security and Medicare accounts. In order to correct these issues, he was told “by Officer so-and-so” to call a number he was unable to write down because the person spoke too quickly. The caller threatened to arrest him if he didn’t call the designated number. 

Since Heth knew his accounts had no such activity, he did not attempt to follow the caller’s instructions.

As a veteran on disability, Heth said, he has “been more or less confined to the house,” where he learned a significant amount on electronic scammers by watching television programs including “60 Minutes.” One episode, he continued, showed him how scammers – within an hour – could “set up 1,000 cell phones and make them all ring at one time.”

His phone history indicates the caller dialed from the number (800) 772-1213, which is used by the Social Security Administration. The Federal Trade Commission in October reported that scammers are using Social Security’s number through caller ID spoofing that allows them to falsify a call’s point of origin.

Neither the U.S. Social Security Administration nor Medicare call people over the phone, said Council on Aging Director Joni Schaff. Rather, both opt to communicate using letters.

Those who receive scam calls involving Medicare, she said, should notify the Montana Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800-551-3191. 

“If they think they’ve shared too much information, such as their Social Security number or bank account number, they need to call the bank right away,” Schaff said. “If it was illegal, they should probably let the Sheriff’s Office know.” The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office may be reached at (406) 665-9780. 

Heth called the Montana Attorney General’s Office, he said, but it was closed due to the federal government shutdown. In addition, he contacted the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office, but noted the department seemed to have “much bigger things to worry about.”

Eventually, he decided a newspaper could help get the word out. 

“Just a heads up to the community,” he said regarding the scam, “because I’m sure that I’m not the only one they’ll call.”