Arrest scam threatens medical professionals, targets several Northeast Ohio victims every day

Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Cuyahoga County Scam Squad is currently working about one hundred different arrest scams but the latest is targeting medical professionals, and the sheriff’s department is getting several reports a day from local victims who are losing thousands of dollars, threatening to be arrested.

“This is not an issue of intelligence or lack of education. This is not about who you know or who you’re connected to. Everyone is vulnerable to this,” said Cindy Van Keuran.

She is one of at least three local medical professionals who were targets of a new arrest scam in just a single day.

She’s a health psychologist, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to get a call about being an expert witness.

“So this scammer contacted my personal cell phone calling on the behalf of the judge to find out why I had not appeared in court,” she recalled.

She said this scammer had clearly done his homework and offered up a citation number.

“It sounded very much like just telling me my options so that i could write this wrong of failing to appear in court and provide expert testimony. They’re including a you know, 350 page docket for me, all sorts of very detailed information,” she said.

The caller, who said he was from the Highland Hills Police Department, had lots of personal information about her.

“He provided me with my home address and other information about my Ring camera and other details that I’m sure are very easily accessible online,” she said.

She said talk of money didn’t happen until about 15 min into the conversation.

“Asking me to show up with cash, $4,000 in cash at the Highland Hills Police Department. Then the details got more specific and more confusing,” said Van Keuren.

She became suspicious and said she wasn’t going to do that.

“At that point then he threatened to send to deputies to my place of employment to have me arrested,” she said.

Once cash demands and threats were involved, she knew it was a scam.

“But I can see why this would be alarming to a healthcare professional. We have a license to protect. We have a reputation to protect. The idea that he was going to send someone to my place of employment certainly was intimidating but still quite suspicious,” she said.

Van Keuren isn’t surprised that medical professionals are being targeted, because she says scammers know they’ll go to great lengths to make sure their license to practice is protected.

She called her local police, and the Highland Hills police, who said it was the third such report they’d gotten that morning. Another medical professional, her relative, didn’t notice the markers of a scam until it was too late.

“My understanding is that the amount given was $2,000 and at that point then these scammer asked for additional money. It was then that the bank said this there’s something wrong here,” she recalls.

Van Keuren also called the Scam Squad.

“They’re telling them that a bench warrant has been issued and they’re expected to pay some form of bond,” said Detective Randy Divis, with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department.

He says these sophisticated scammers are using real deputies’ names when they reach out to these medical professionals and even spoofing the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department phone number, all while pressing the victims to act quickly.

“Everything’s very timely. It’s planned out. It’s coordinated. They try to make this go as quickly as possible to thwart your efforts of confirming this,” Divis said.

Orders vary from sending $495 via cash app, to gift cards, Bitcoin, or even showing up with thousands in cash to the Justice Center.

“We’ll have several a day that come to the Justice Center,” said Divis.

According to the Sheriff’s Department if you were really in trouble for missing a court date, you would be contacted by mail, not over the phone.

“All money transactions would be done at the clerk of courts. It’d be an in-person transaction. We don’t use any form of apps. We don’t use Cash app. We don’t use Venmo. We don’t use any form of wire transfer while over the phone,” Divis said.

Another red flag is switching phone numbers.

“Oftentimes they will call from a number that appears to be our number and then they will ask you to either call them back and they’ll provide a separate number or they’ll ask you to send money to an account linked to that separate phone number,” Divis said.

Van Keuren hopes her colleagues know not to be embarrassed if they’re targeted by these scammers, but to report it so investigators can try to stop them.

The sheriff’s department says if you do get a phone call about a missed a subpoena, hang up and simply call the Sheriff’s Department yourself, then document everything you can and contact the Scam Squad.