By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item
Barry J. received a disturbing call. The caller, claiming to be an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency in New York, said the name of Barry’s wife had come up with regard to a pharmaceutical cartel investigation in San Francisco and DEA had to verify her identification.
Barry, 60, of Sunbury, was immediately suspicious. He told the caller to contact the local police and “have them call me.”
The caller said “I’ll have my boss call you.”
Barry called state police in Stonington, who told him that in a situation like this, the DEA would go directly to the local police and the local police would come to Barry for more information.
They said there wasn’t much they could do but told him, “If they call again, get a badge number,” Barry said.
The next day he got another call, from the “DEA.”
This time the caller, with a heavy accent, told Barry he was with the Houston office and that “one of my senior agents called earlier ....”
Barry asked for a badge number.
“He thought about it for a minute and a half,” Barry said, before coming up with some random number.
Barry hung up.
On Wednesday, the “DEA agent” called Barry’s house again. Before hanging up, Barry again told him to call the local police.
But then the man called back “and asked me if I had any weapons in the house, because he was going to have me arrested in 15 minutes.”
Barry called his attorney in Williamsport.
“I gave him phone numbers,” Barry said.
He had the numbers because after each call, Barry wrote down where the calls had originated.
Calling the numbers, they are indeed answered by the “DEA” — one has an area code of (518) and reaches a professional-sounding message from a Doug Howard with the New York DEA and the other, area code (281), also has a voicemail with an unidentified, accented female voice, stating you’ve reached the Houston office of the DEA.
Both ask the caller to leave a phone number.
While area code (518) actually is in New York, area code (281) is in Minnesota.
A quick second call to the “Houston office” was answered; the same voice as in the voicemail message. When asked if it was the DEA, she hung up. Called back, the same woman answered and when again asked about the DEA, she whispered to someone on the other end before slamming down the phone.
Howard never returned the call.
It’s surprising that anyone, real or on voicemail, was on the receiving end of these phone numbers. Impersonating a federal agent is a violation of federal law.
Then again, they aren’t exactly impersonating federal agents because they are claiming to be with the Drug Enforcement Agency, not the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
And the real DEA actually does have offices in Houston and New York.
This is a typical ruse by scammers — using names that are similar to real organizations, companies and products, and even copying other details.
People could easily be confused — and frightened — and without thinking, provide scammers with personal information.
“If we’re getting calls like this,” Barry said, “others could be too.
“My dad is 89. If he had answered the phone, he would have had a heart attack.”