Merced Sheriff's Department warns of new scam using names of actual law enforcement officers

Cons are putting a new twist on an old scam, using the names of law enforcement officers to give an air of authority to their illegal activities.

The Merced County Sheriff's Department was called Monday by a person who said they received a call from someone identifying themselves as an employee with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and saying the victim had won the Publisher's Clearing House contest in 2008 but someone had stolen the money. The suspect told the victim that the FBI retrieved the money and wanted to return it to the "rightful" owner -- and all it woudl take is for the victim to write a small check and send it to Budapest to activate the account.

The scam works when the suspects can obtain the victim's account number, name of their bank, home address and other information. The scam has been going on for years, the sheriff's department said.

When the victim questioned the caller about it, the suspect asked what jurisdiction he lived in then said they would call back in a few minutes. After a few minutes, the suspect called back and said the contact person for their investigation in this jurisdiction was Detective Sgt. Coburn. The suspects probably did a simple Internet search of local news stories to come up with the name, the sheriff's department said. When the victim called Sgt. Coburn to confirm the story, they were immediately notified that it was an identity theft scam and not to send any money.

The Merced Sheriff's Department said people should never give out personal information unless they initiated the call and never send money when someone calls saying you won a grand prize.