By Andy Sheehan

MONROEVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) – Monroeville Police say a scammer is pretending to be an officer to get bail money from victims, even using the names of family members to sound legitimate.

It’s an old scam with a new twist. The caller identifies him or herself as a police officer asking for money to bail the receiver’s relative out of jail. In this case, the number that popped up was that of the Monroeville Police Department.

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Once again the scammers targeted the elderly. This time the caller identified himself as a Monroeville police officer telling the resident who answered the phone he had their relative in custody but would let him go for the price of bail. The phony officer knew the name of the person’s relative and won their confidence.

“The victims here truly believed it was one of their relatives who was in trouble and needed help,” said Monroeville Police Chief Doug Cole.

The scammer instructed the victim to purchase $2,000 in gift cards and then read off the serial numbers, which they did. And, after draining the money from the cards, the scammer disappeared, leaving the resident with a stack of useless cards. The FBI calls it just one case in a national epidemic targeting older people.

Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation in these kinds of scams against the elderly, and our region has been especially hard hit. From January to May of this year, 448 victims over 60 have reported being scammed for losses totaling $2.2 million.

But the FBI says this is just the tip of the iceberg and most people are too embarrassed to report being taken.

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“They may have more financial stability than other segments of the population, be more trusting,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joe Rothrock.

This one is a common scam but with a twist. The scammers stole, or spoofed, the number of the Monroeville Police Department. When the resident eventually called the number back, the police informed them they had been scammed.

“The unique part of this was that they were spoofing our phone number and that when they called the individuals, they had the Monroeville Police Department phone number. If they would have called back, we would have told them, ‘hey don’t do it, it’s a fraud,’” Cole said.

Police say as a general rule of thumb, if anyone asks for money, especially if it’s in gift cards, it’s best to hang up and call known contact numbers.

“Scammers with even a tiny bit of information can pretend to be or know anyone,” police said on Facebook.

The Monroeville Police say if you’re concerned about any calls, you can call their non-emergency number at 412-856-1111 and ask.

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“Technology has enabled us to do many wonderful things, but it also can be used by bad people to do bad things. Keep yourself safe,” police wrote.