Is this a scam? Or something worse?
December 7, 2017 11:18 AM   Subscribe

A friend got a weird call that scared her. Is it real?

Someone identifying himself as a local police sergeant called a friend of mine. He told her that a man named "Trey Wilson" (not the real name he gave) was being released from a psychiatric hospital in a neighboring state and had been making threats against her. The sergeant said "Trey" was being released tonight, and he (the sergeant) was calling to warn her. My friend does not know a "Trey Wilson" or anyone in that state.

I was immediately skeptical. I told her to call the local police station and see if that sergeant exists -- to somehow verify this independently. (Not just calling back the number, but calling the police herself.) I have never heard of police calling someone like this, and it just seems off. I thought of the strip search phone call scam.

My questions are: Do police call people with warnings like this? Has this happened to anyone before? What could be the goal of a call like this (if not real)?
posted by Cwell to Law & Government (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Could this be a mistaken identity thing? Does your friend have a common name?

This sounds fanciful, but my first thought is that it's some sort of code-talking among malfeasants.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

This seems extremely weird to me as well. She should call her local police ASAP to confirm it's a scam call. Many scams are now trying to record your voice saying specific words or giving specific information about yourself. Did they ask her to confirm any personal info? Regardless, call the local police. The FBI also tracks this stuff.
posted by quince at 11:37 AM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Sounds like a simple prank to me.

What did the police say when your friend called?
posted by ejs at 11:38 AM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are Duty to Warn laws under which mental health professionals have an exception to HIPAA if they deem a client a danger to others. However, a mental hospital would never release a patient who was actively a danger to others as that is one of the criteria for involuntary commitment.

I haven’t heard of a scam like this, but it’s certainly not typical mental health practice.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 11:42 AM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

She called the local police department and they confirmed that it is not a prank. They said they received a call from the other state's police department, and that they were equally baffled but still passed on the warning.

Her name is uncommon -- though there are varied spellings of her first name on a Google search. She has closed down social media temporarily, just in case.

I didn't know about "duty to warn" laws. I wonder if the local police department somewhat exaggerated the original message.
posted by Cwell at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2017

Waiting for Pierce Inverarity beat me to remembering the term "duty to warn," but I can confirm that the police will sometimes call to let you know that someone who has made threats against you is getting out.

Your advice is exactly right. She needs to call the police station that supposedly called her. Look up the main number, rather than just calling whatever is on Caller ID.

This could be a case of mistaken identity, but if it is, they should know that the person they intended to call hasn't been warned. It could also be a scam of some sort, I reckon, but the end game is not jumping out for me. Obviously, she shouldn't volunteer anything to any rando who calls her out of the blue like that.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:49 AM on December 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Apparently, we posted simultaneously, and she did confirm the call. Can she call the originating police department, then? If this is a case of mistaken identity, they incorrectly think they've warned the person he threatened. They need to know they haven't so they can find and warn her.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like this is in the US, but I was reminded of the UK's Osman Warnings (thanks, British police procedurals on Netflix!). You friend should start tracing the call back to the hospital and see what the deal is directly from them. Get names when possible. Ask the local PD who called them from the neighboring state, and then call that person. Ask them who called them from the hospital, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2017

She's going to try and track it back to the original police department and hospital, and also let them know that this could be a case of mistaken identity. Her local police department is in a very small town and aren't, exactly, the most competent police force!

I was hoping it was a scam.
posted by Cwell at 12:03 PM on December 7, 2017

Oh man keep us updated. My now-husband was in a VAGUELY similar situation with a person he had never met, and we eventually figured out that the intended potential target was actually his estranged birth father father with the exact same name. Mix ups do happen.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:51 PM on December 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm assuming that you're in the U.S. on this one, but if your local police is a small force and not the most top-notch, as it were, you may want to look into escalating to the state police, since they may have more and better resources to assist. Good luck.
posted by General Malaise at 2:16 PM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

How did this end up?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:17 AM on December 27, 2017

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