The Drug Enforcement Agency is warning residents about a phone scam that is costing some victims thousands of dollars.
The scammers target victims who bought prescription drugs online and try to extort money from them by claiming the victims ran afoul of the law.
Area resident Doug, who asked WJLA not to use his last name, received such a message.
“This is special agent Joe Campbell. Please give me a call back at 202-241-7171 extension 225. I have more information regarding your case. Thank you,” it said.
He called back and was told the DEA intercepted a package addressed to him and he was in trouble for ordering prescription drugs online.
“It was very threatening at first,” he said.
A series of phone calls over three hours lead Doug to believe he was talking with a federal agent. The person even gave him a case number and said they were negotiating a fine to keep him out of jail.
“There's a heightened sense of fear that anybody would have...that you're going to get dragged away and put in jail for something you didn't do,” he said.
One of Doug's former employees had ordered prescription drugs online from a company computer. DEA agents interviewed by WJLA say that's how the criminals found Doug.
“They set-up fake prescription drug sites, get your information when you order, and then use that order against you...claiming they're DEA, that you've broken the law, and must pay a fine or face immediate arrest,” one federal agent described the scammer’s tactics.
“It’s very legitimate sounding, other than the fact that no reputable law enforcement agent in the country would try to receive money legitimately over the phone,” the agent adds.
Doug eventually called the DEA, where he was immediately told it was a scam. The DEA says it has received calls from more than 2,000 victims. The agency estimates there are many more people who fell or almost fell for the scam that they don’t know about.
The agency has posted a warning on its website alerting people of the scam. “The public should be aware that no DEA agent will ever contact members of the public by telephone to demand money or any other form of payment,” the notice reads.
The agent said residents can avoid being targeted by scammers by choosing carefully where to order prescription drugs online. He recommends using the website of a domestic company, such as a reputable pharmacy.
Doug said when he called the number named in the message, he inadvertently gave the scammers his cell phone number, which they used to continue harassing him. A police officer later told him to dial *67 before calling an unknown number – that blocks a caller’s number from being transmitted.
Doug understands how so many people have been fooled.
“You could easily get caught up in this,” he said, “paying some money just to get them off your back. It's that scary.”