Travis County DA warns of phone scam involving Bitcoin

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The Travis County district attorney’s office is warning residents about a new phone scam targeting residents.

The DA’s office has received complaints that someone posing as a Travis County investigator or prosecutor is threatening to make an arrest unless money is promptly wired via Bitcoin. At least one person paid more than $7,000 to a scammer who used a fake district attorney’s office phone number, the agency said.

District Attorney Jose Garza said his office does not contact residents seeking payment to avoid arrest, and it will never demand in-person payments made with cash, gift cards or Bitcoin.

Travis County residents are encouraged to hang up, dial 3-1-1 and report if they receive a call threatening arrest, demanding immediate payment or requesting their credit card or bank account information. Those uncertain about a call can contact the DA’s office at 512-854-9400.

Scam calls also should be reported to the Austin Police Department and the Federal Trade Commission, Garza said. 

Other phone scams are targeting the Austin area as well.

Austin Energy said 1,630 scams have been reported this year, including 87 customers who lost a combined $43,459, to people posing as employees of City of Austin Utilities, Austin Energy or Austin Water. Customers were typically contacted by phone, letter, email or text, but some were visited at their homes.

The city utilities said employees never threaten residential customers with immediate cut-off deadlines or ask for credit card or wire transfer information over the phone. They also will not demand immediate payment in person with cash, gift card, Bitcoin or any non-traceable form of payment, according to its website.

According to the FTC, scammers often use the holiday season to take advantage of people by making bogus phone calls, such as pretending to be from a local charity, to gain access to personal information. 

The FTC recommends that people ignore calls from unknown — or spoofed — numbers and hang up on any unsolicited calls seeking donations or requesting personal information. The agency also recommends verifying information in any solicitation request and avoiding opening or clicking on links in suspicious emails.