Officials warn public after recent rush of scam attempts

Posted at 8:08 PM, Mar 07, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY -- A classic scam is back in action; crooks are calling people and claiming they’ve won a new car, and then they start to ask for personal information.

But no one is immune to this. Just last week, the governor’s chief of staff got a call from one of these scammers.

“My antenna immediately went up because if something is too good to be true it typically is,” said Derek Miller, who is Gov. Herbert’s chief of staff.

Miller got a voicemail message on his home phone, saying that he had won a new 2014 Ford Explorer.

“I called the number back, and the person who I spoke to said, ‘This is Christian. I'm Mr. Russell's assistant. Congratulations, you've won this big prize, and all I need to do is get your personal information from you,’” Miller said.

But Miller had not entered any contests or drawings like the so-called assistant said, and he refused to give any of his personal information.

Miller said the scammer was persistent: “They kept saying, ‘Don’t you want your prize? You're going to get this great prize. All I need to do is to have you give me your personal information,’ and of course I wasn't going to do that.”

Then Miller told the man that the call sounded highly suspicious and said he wanted to get some of his information – and the man hung up.

“I'm someone who had experience overseeing fraud investigators,” Miller said. “I can tell when something is not right, but I just didn't like the fact that this person was also making calls to people who wouldn't necessarily know, and they would be a little more innocent and be taken advantage of.”

Miller went to the Utah Department of Commerce and found that the executive director’s husband had gotten the same call.

Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said people should be cautious.

“This is going on out there, and I sure hope people are not providing information over the telephone because they are asking for specific personal information and we don't want anyone to do that,” she said.

Investigators then found that the phone had been purchased in Salt Lake City and was paid for with cash.

“It is very difficult to find these people, they could be operating from any state,” Giani said. “In some cases they could be operating in a foreign country.”

The Department of Commerce tells people to never give out personal information over the phone. Even things like your address and birthdate.

“This is going to happen,” Giani said. “It has been happening forever and a day, and it will continue happening, but if we have an educated consumer who doesn't fall into the trap in giving a piece of information out then that's the perfect way to handle these jokers.”

So, remember: If you get one of these calls, you probably didn’t win a new car, but if you take the right steps you can save yourself a lot of trouble.