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Bethel Police warn of phone scam impersonating officers

Police lights outside of Bethel Police headquarters in 2022.
Katie Basile
Police lights outside of Bethel Police headquarters in 2022.

Bethel Police Department is warning residents about a phone scam run by people impersonating local and federal police officers.

Multiple residents have reported receiving calls from people claiming to be local and federal officers. The callers urgently demand action, money, or personal information. Some of the calls appear to come from a local landline number at Bethel’s courthouse. It's a scam.

In a voicemail provided to KYUK, a caller addressed a Bethel resident by name and said that they had legal documents that needed the resident’s urgent attention. KYUK has removed the identifying information from the quote to protect the resident’s privacy.

“Yes, Deputy Chris [unintelligible]. I am with Bethel Police Department. I have an urgent legal message for Ms. [bleeped]. Ms. [bleeped] I do have some legal documents here that require your immediate attention. So please just give me a call back on my direct line at your earliest convenience,” the message said.

In the rest of the message, the caller told the resident to call back to a direct line with a 206- area code, which traces back to Seattle, Washington. Other Bethel residents have written on local social media pages that the caller accused them of property crimes and asked them to account for their location.

Since the scam was first reported in Bethel, Police Lieutenant Christopher Wigner said that it has evolved.

"They are now reporting themselves as federal officers," Wigner said on July 9. "And they’re sitting there saying that they’re actually calling from Washington D.C., threatening to make arrests of citizens here in Bethel. They sit there and say that Bethel Police Officers will arrest them, and that they will be transported to the federal courthouse where they'll spend at least two to three days."

But it’s all fake.

Scammers try to use a false sense of urgency to trick people into giving them thousands of dollars or sensitive personal information.

Wigner said that one resident told Bethel police that the caller said they were on an identifiable street in town and would come to their house if they didn’t transfer thousands of dollars.

But Wigner emphasized that police on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, or even federal officers, would never ask for wire transfers, gift cards, or sensitive personal information like a social security number over the phone.

"At no time will any law enforcement agency ask you to wire transfer or send any money to them," Wigner said. "If the police department wants to speak to somebody, they will actually show it to you in person."

The Bethel scam appears to be part of a pattern of other police impersonation scams throughout Alaska. People in Palmer, Anchorage, and Kenai have been falsely told that they’ve missed jury duty or have a warrant out for their arrest. Some have lost thousands of dollars to the scam.

If in doubt, Wigner said to ask a caller saying they’re an officer for their badge number, then call the local police department to check the information and report a suspected scam.

You can reach the Bethel Police Department by phone at 907-543-3781.

If you think that you’ve been scammed, you can file an online report with the Federal Trade Commission, which keeps track of fraud in the United States.

Updated: July 9, 2024 at 4:42 PM AKDT
This article has been updated to add additional information from Bethel's Police Department.
Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.