My Experience with the Therapist Phone Scam

This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about a phone scam that has been targeting therapists. The article is paywalled, so here are the bullet points:

  • Therapist gets a phone call from someone claiming to be law enforcement
  • Caller states the therapist failed to appear for a subpoena and now has a warrant out for their arrest
  • Caller states that the therapist must pay bail over the phone via gift cards or they will be arrested
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

Since I received one of these calls over a year ago, I wanted to share my experience so that others know what red flags to look for. Getting a call from someone claiming to be with the police can be terrifying, and it is hard to keep your rational brain going when you are scared.

This scam has been going around for a while. I first heard about it almost two years ago in a Facebook group for therapists – therapists with profiles on Psychology Today were being targeted with these calls.

I am not on Psychology Today, but a few months later, I received a voicemail from a man claiming to be a lieutenant sheriff in a county close to mine. The message stated that he needed to speak to me about an “urgent legal matter” that was “not an emergency.”

First things first: before returning a call from someone claiming to be an authority, Google them. Nothing came up when I searched this man’s name, which was telling. I also searched the phone number, which came up as Kentucky. Why would a sheriff in South Dakota call from a Kentucky number? Short answer: they wouldn’t.

I returned the call because I was suspicious but wanted to cover myself on the tiny chance that this was legitimate. He verified my name, title, and the address of my office (all available online – my Sioux Falls Psychological profile is the top Google result for Amy Marschall, that same information is on this website, and I am listed on several “Find a therapist near you”-type sites).

Then he told me, “On [date], you signed a subpoena to appear at [courthouse] yesterday, and you didn’t show up.” This is when I knew for certain it was a scam because on the date he stated, I had worked from home and not been in the office at all.

He started talking about warrants, and I interrupted him to tell him I had worked from home that day, so it was impossible that I had signed a subpoena. I then asked why he was calling from a Kentucky number, to which he said it was his personal cell phone number.

Me: “Right, because law enforcement officers want people they arrest to have their personal contact information.” (That made him mad.) “Listen, ‘lieutenant,’ since you’re legitimately with the sheriff’s office, I’m sure you know there’s a scam going around targeting therapists and telling us we have warrants out for missing subpoenas that don’t actually exist. I’m going to hang up and call the department directly, and if they can verify your story, I’ll call you back.”

He tried to give me the phone number to his “direct supervisor,” and I told him the phone number was actually available on the sheriff’s department website, which somehow had no mention of him as an employee. To further cover my a**, I did call the sheriff’s department, who confirmed he didn’t exist in their system.

If you are not 100% sure, you can ask other follow up questions, such as “What case is this regarding?” Therapists get subpoenaed to testify about clients. While I would not give a client’s name or information, someone following up about a missed subpoena should know what case they are calling about. Know also that the police typically do not call to give a heads up before arresting someone.

Scammers have a script that they know tends to work. They use fear and your desire to do the right thing to manipulate you into thinking you need to comply with them. Take a breath, remain clam, and trust your gut about the red flags. It will be okay.

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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