KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) — Most of the time when the phone rings at Dentworx in Kingsport, it’s a customer asking Chris Shelton to fix the damage on their car.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Shelton said of the business he started from scratch and built into one of the region’s most successful auto body repair shops.
But that wasn’t the case when the phone ran on a Friday afternoon earlier this year.
“I noticed I missed a phone call, so I called the number back,” Shelton remembered. “He said he was Sgt. Greene with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.”
After trading voicemails, Shelton said he finally reached a man claiming to be a law enforcement officer who gave him some surprising news.
“He told me I was supposed to have appeared for jury duty at the Federal Courthouse in Greeneville,” Shelton said. “He let me know that he had proof I had signed a certified letter proving that I knew I had been called up, and I was in trouble because I didn’t come for federal jury duty.”
Shelton said his mind raced through the previous days, desperately trying to remember anything about jury duty and the federal court in Greeneville. Nothing rang a bell, but everything about the call seemed legitimate.
“He was totally professional,” Shelton said. “I didn’t suspect a thing.”
So even though it was an extremely busy on Friday afternoon, Shelton dropped everything at his business and immediately set out to fix the problem.
The “officer’s” instructions – Shelton must leave his business as soon as possible and come to Greeneville to clear up the mess. But before that, he needed to provide proof he would pay his fine. Since he’d failed to show for jury duty, Shelton now was considered a flight risk, the man said.
“He said when you walk into the building, if it’s not in the system, they’re going to arrest you,” Shelton said.
The “officer” said he could help Shelton. He told him to simply go to a local grocery store and load money onto a pre-paid cash card.
“He did not want me to get off the phone the whole time,” Shelton said. “I’m getting ready to go to the bank and get this guy $3000.” That was money the man said would be refunded to Shelton once he got to Greeneville.
“’I actually went into Kroger and asked them about it,” Shelton said. “I said have you ever heard of anything like this?”
The clerk at the store then confirmed what Shelton had started to suspect. “He said you’re getting scammed.”
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department Captain Joey Strickler said he’s very familiar with this type of scam. “They’ve actually used MY name calling people saying, ‘This is officer Joey Strickler with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.'”
Shelton says people should immediately suspect problems when they’re asked to transfer money through a pre-paid money card. “Once they get the numbers on the card, the money is gone,” he said.
He hopes everyone remembers the facts when they get a call threatening you to pay a fine.
“No local law enforcement or any federal agency is going to do anything like that.”
Strickler said the scammers are now using the internet to find the names of people and places to create the illusion of legitimacy.
“They’re brilliant is what they are,” Shelton said.
Fortunately, the scammer didn’t get any of Chris Shelton’s money. He agreed to tell his story so that others don’t get scammed either.
“Thank God I shook myself out of it at the last minute,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for me to say i was that close to losing my money, but that’s how good these people are.”
Protect yourself and spread the word:
- PRINT THIS: “11 Questions to ask to Avoid Being Scammed” (.pdf)
- Click here, to sign up for scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission
- Click here, to alert the Federal Trade Commission about a scam
- Click here, to report a complaint about a company to the Federal Trade Commission
- Click here to see other stories from our Scam Busters team.
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