Beware of ‘Officer Mike Crawford’
Alameda seems to have become fertile soil for phone scammers to plow. By and large Alamedans are a trusting lot and perhaps a bit naïve to the ways of skilled conmen who have discovered a potential cash cow across the Oakland Estuary. Here’s one that almost got me, and I’m a world traveler.
My wife and I thought the ringing phone was a sales pitch, so we let it go to the answering machine. When I played it back there was a very professional sounding voice that identified himself as "Officer Mike Crawford" of the Alameda County Sheriff’s department. He left a call back number, saying it was urgent that I call him ASAP.
I dialed the number and received a recorded message informing me I had reached the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, Warrants Division. The message instructed me to leave a message and phone number, and my call would be returned as soon as possible. I gave my name, phone number, adding I was returning the earlier call of Mike Crawford. I further added if this was a solicitation for money, I was not interested.
Well, "Officer Crawford" called back in about 20 minutes, informing me there was a warrant out for my arrest. I had failed to appear at court two weeks ago. I was dumbfounded. What court? What was the charge? "Officer Crawford" replied I had been sent a summons to appear because of my failing to yield at the crosswalk at Buena Vista Avenue and Park Street.
I explained I’d never received a summons and had never been given a ticket. Nevertheless "Officer Crawford" said a warrant had been issued for my failure to appear. When I insisted I had never received any summons, he agreed that sometimes mail is lost. I further stated I had never received a ticket. He said it was a photo ticket and not a citation by an officer. I still said it wasn’t me.
He went on that there was nothing he could do. The "wheels of justice" had been put in motion and the only thing he could do was give me a notice to appear in another three weeks at 10:30 on a Monday morning at the courthouse in Oakland. He explained that this would be confirmed by registered mail tomorrow morning. I was perplexed; I’m a very careful driver and have not received a ticket in more than 45 years.
"Officer Crawford" did say he had a copy of the photo, and it appeared the driver was a young man. Did I have anyone else in my house who had access to my car? No, no one. I’m 79 years old and my wife is 74. It must be a case of mistaken identity, I thought.
He then added that I certainly didn’t sound like the typical miscreant and a mix-up like this occurs in rare instances. He might be able to help me with the judge. Could I arrange to be at court by 9:30 a.m. before the court was in session? He would meet me there and together we can speak with the judge in his chambers. I agreed; I certainly wanted to speak to someone about this matter.
(My wife had been listening in on the extension phone and wrote, ‘SCAM!’ in big block letters on a post-it pad.)
"Officer Crawford" went on to say that because of the nature of the charge, I would be required to put up a refundable bond in the amount of $300 for the violation and $400 for failure to appear. He assured me that if the judge sided with me, the clerk would be instructed to return my bond. He then went on to say I could pay in several ways, PayPal, Certified Check, or a "court system" called, Green Dot MoneyPak. He didn’t know what the title meant but he could take my credit card over the phone.
At this point I replied that while I am concerned about this problem, I was not about to give up any money or credit card information over the phone. I told "Officer Crawford" I’d wait for the certified letter to arrive before taking any further action.
The line went dead.
I called the Alameda Police Department (APD) and learned that the whole thing was a scam. "Officer Crawford’s" phone number belonged to a cellphone, and Alameda has no traffic cameras. The nice person at APD told me that mine was one of several calls the police had received about the same con.
A word (or two) of advice: Beware! Never, never, never give your credit card information, or money, to someone on the phone that you don’t know. Enough said.
David Case is a law-abiding resident of Alameda who always stops at crosswalks and yields to pedestrians.