We’ve all become more vigilant about the scams and imposters that lurk online but news this week from a local police agency serves as a reminder that we also can’t let our guard down when the phone rings.

Last week the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office reported that someone, impersonating a sheriff’s office staffer, was calling residents and threatening to have them arrested unless they purchased prepaid debit cards and handed over the card’s information—essentially stealing money from the would-be victims. The sheriff’s office main phone number showed up on the victim’s caller ID.

According to 2019 statistics from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the telephone was the most common method used by scammers to connect with their targeted victims, followed by websites and email.

Scams like the one Sheriff Mat King warned against are becoming more and more common. The FTC reports that the incidence of government impostor scams in 2019 more than doubled over the prior year. Government imposters include criminals pretending to be employees of the IRS, other federal agencies or even local law enforcement who threaten people into giving them money or personal information.

Fortunately, not everyone who reports a scam has fallen prey to it but of those Americans who did, they lost almost $667 million due to impostor scams in 2019, a 34 percent increase over 2018. Either the scammers are getting more crafty or not enough people have heard the warnings from law enforcement and other advocates about being wary of these types of calls.

Sheriff King’s advice merits being repeated here, especially the permission he grants to be curt.

“Do not answer calls from unknown phone numbers. If you must pick up, refuse to engage with telemarketers over the phone. While some seem friendly, they may attempt to sell products or services you do not want or need. Or, they may attempt to gain access to your money. Do not worry about offending anyone. Firmly say, ‘Remove us from your calling list.’ You needn’t provide an explanation. Then, hang up.”