WEST MIAMI(CBSMIAMI) – West Miami Police Chief Nelson Andreu has a warning for South Florida residents that criminals have cloned the telephone of his police department in order to call unsuspecting victims and get money from them.

Andreu says some victims have paid up to $1,000. And he fears the number of (305) 266-0530 is being used to target other victims outside his city.

In an exclusive interview with CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, Andreu said “The community needs to be aware of these scams. If you have any questions at all, call your local police department. If they have done this to West Miami which is a smaller community it is an even bet that they are calling bigger communities as well and who knows what will happen.”

Andreu says his department has received dozens of complaints in the past week. Thursday morning, the department received at least 10 complaints. He said it’s not the first time his department’s number has been cloned but the complaints have spiked recently.

“Apparently these crooks figure out a way through their computer or some sort of hack to call residents,” he said. “These people who see the police department number think it is legitimate and some people have paid $500 or $1,000, whatever is requested.”

Andreu said “They are typically saying this is the police department. They frequently say that one of your relatives like your son or nephew has been arrested and if you don’t send $500 or $1,000, whatever, he is going to be booked and sent to jail.”

“One of the key factors is that they ask you to go to Western Union or go buy a gift card or an Amazon gift card and give us the numbers,” he said. “They are going after people who are vulnerable. Many of them are elderly in our community.”

Andreu said some criminals using his department number have claimed they were calling from the Internal Revenue Service.

“I think people need to be aware that the Internal Revenue Service will never call you and threaten you. The IRS will never call you. They will send you a letter. They will never call you at home,” said Andreu.

Police are warning potential victims who are calling police not to give up their personal or credit card information or social security information.

“In fact do not give them any information,” said a dispatcher. “What you need to do is tell them that you are going to call police and they will probably hang up.”

Andreu says he has reached out to other police chiefs in South Florida and has not found any other departments whose number has been cloned by criminals.

“It is fraud,” said the concerned Chief.

At a nearby supermarket in West Miami, Pablo Ruiz said he had been victimized in a similar phone scam.

“I was called by people saying they were from the Social Security office and they were not,” he said. “I think this is fraud. This is fraud. This is terrible. They should catch them.”

Jonas Devine, who works in West Miami, said “Well that is horrible. It is like being in Latin America where they do those things and call people. It is horrible.”

Shopping nearby in West MIami, Johanna Dalvivi said, “I do not think this is nice. I do not feel good about this. This is not a game.”

Peter D'Oench

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