Federal officials have indicted more than 50 people, including 15 former prison officials and 19 former inmates, in a long-running vishing and phone fraud scheme that was run through a Georgia prison.
Using cell phones smuggled into Autry State Prison by guards, the inmates would call victims, mostly in the Atlanta metro area, and inform them that they were warrants our for their arrest because they had failed to show up for jury duty. The callers would warn the victims that law enforcement officers were on the way and they were about to be arrested. Unless, of course, the victims could come up with some money to pay a fine and have the warrants erased.
Because that’s how the justice system works.
“For those victims who wanted to pay a fine, the inmates instructed them to purchase pre-paid cash cards.”
It’s not how it works, obviously, but when there’s a caller, pretending to be a sheriff’s deputy or other law enforcement agent and threatening jail time, people tend to have irrational reactions. And that’s what the callers were counting on. The inmates researched the names of local law enforcement officers and created fake voice mail greetings on their contraband cell phones so when victims called back, the greetings would seem legitimate.
Once the scammer had a victim on the hook, he would work to convince the victim to pay the imaginary fine immediately.
“For those victims who wanted to pay a fine, the inmates instructed them to purchase pre-paid cash cards and provide the account number of the cash card or wire money directly into a pre-paid debit card account held by the inmates. Based on these false representations, the victims electronically transferred money to the inmates because they believed that the funds would be used to pay the fine for failing to appear for jury duty and would result in the dismissal of the arrest warrant,” a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia on the case says.
The jury duty scam is a twist on the more familiar IRS phone-fraud scheme in which callers demand immediate payment for supposedly unpaid back taxes. The lure is different, but the mechanics and results are the same. With the scheme allegedly run by the Autry prison inmates, it was effective enough to pull in more than $37,000, some of which allegedly went to the inmates and some went to alleged conspirators outside the prison.
“After a victim provided an inmate with the account number of the pre-paid cash card, the inmates then used their contraband cellular telephones to contact co-conspirators, who were not incarcerated, to have those individuals transfer the money from the cash card purchased by the victims to a pre-paid debit card possessed by the co-conspirators. Next, the co-conspirators withdrew the victim’s money, which had been transferred to the pre-paid debit card they controlled, via an automated teller machine or at a retail store. Typically, the co-conspirators then laundered the stolen money by purchasing a new cash card so that the victims’ funds could be transferred back to the inmates,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Among those indicted, many of the former correctional officers were charged with conspiring to accept bribes; the inmates and former inmates were charged mainly with conspiring to bribe correctional officials, conspiring to smuggle in contraband, or money laundering; and most of the alleged co-conspirators outside the prison were charged with wire fraud and money laundering.
Image from Flickr stream of Quinn Dombrowski.