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VIPD: Watch Out For ‘Phone Cloning’ Scams Taking U.S. Virgin Islanders’ Money

FREDERIKSTED — Police are asking the public to watch out for a “phone cloning” scam currently being used to dupe people in the territory.

Criminals make victims believe they are receiving a text message from a loved one in distress who needs an electronic cash transfer.

The Virgin Islands Police Department’s Economic Crime Unit has seen an uptick in the number of phone cloning scams being run here.

According to VIPD spokesman Glen Dratte, cell phone tracking software allows scammers to “scan” your phone to get the device’s serial number.

That information is then used to “clone” the victim’s phone on another device, allowing scammers to see your calling history and pretend to be the person whose device serial number they now have.

Scam messages are typically “very brief” and scammers will pretend to be sick or in need of emergency cash and will ask the victim’s friends and family members for money transfers.

“We are asking the community to avoid answering any phone calls from numbers that are suspicious and to avoid providing personal information over the phone or through text message, even if the telephone number appears to be an individual that they know,” he said.

Most often, scammers ask for payments by telephone cards or iTunes using the cloned number and pretending to be a loved one, Dratte said.

“Do not wire or send funds through Western Union or Money Gram to individuals because they are sick or to win any funds,” he said. “Check your phone bills to verify that no calls are being made from out of our district. Keep your phone with you at all times, turn off Bluetooth and WiFi when not in use, clear browsing history and cookies regularly, use security applications to keep the phone protected, stay away from using unfamiliar WiFi access and vet applications before installing them.”

If you feel you have been a victim of such a scam you can contact the VIPD’s Economic Crime Unit on St. Croix at: (340) 778-1001 or on St. Thomas at: (340) 774-3942 or you can call the anonymous tip line Crimestoppers USVI at: 1-800-222-8477 or 911.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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