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SALT LAKE CITY — Alta Williams was home when her phone rang Wednesday morning.
It was a call that took her totally by surprise. The man on the other end of the line identified himself as Salt Lake County Undersheriff Jake Petersen.
“(He) said I had missed a federal court jury summons that was for April 15 at 9:30 a.m.,” Williams said. “I said I didn’t get the summons — I never received it.”
The caller then told her she had two class C misdemeanors leveled against her, but to avoid having a criminal record she could come down to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office at 3365 S. 900 West and they could navigate through the paperwork.
The man described the building and even offered Petersen’s badge number, so Williams headed toward the location in South Salt Lake to try to straighten out the situation, even though something didn’t seem right to her from the beginning. She arrived at the Sheriff’s Office, went inside and asked for Petersen, but was told he wasn’t there.
As a worker tried to track the undersheriff down, Williams’ phone rang. It was once again the man claiming to be Petersen. “He says, ‘wait for me outside,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m already inside — I’m outside your office!’” Williams exclaimed.
As she was on the phone, the actual undersheriff walked up to her. Williams put the caller on speaker.
“I answered the phone and he announced himself as undersheriff Jake Petersen and I told him he was actually speaking to undersheriff Jake Petersen, and he told me he was the real undersheriff Jake Petersen and he gave me my badge number, which was correct,” the real Petersen recalled Friday during a second visit with Williams. “I told him it was obvious that he was scamming (her).”
Petersen told the man to stop the scam and that it wasn’t going to work before the call ended. The caller, according to Williams, had been seeking nearly $2,000 in money vouchers. The undersheriff commended Williams for doing the right things to avoid being scammed.
“You did everything right,” Petersen told the woman. “The things that you did right are you actually came to the police station. You actually came and spoke with a uniformed officer, you didn’t fall for anything that he told you, you were suspicious and you followed your suspicions.”
Petersen said police will never ask the public to come pay cash or pay with vouchers to solve a warrant in their parking lot.
“I didn’t know if my doppelganger was out there trying to convince me that he was the real Jake Petersen, but I was pretty sure that he didn’t go through POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) and that he wasn’t a police officer, and that he wasn’t the real Jake Petersen standing down at the Sheriff’s Office and he wasn’t going to convince me over the phone,” Petersen said. “He sure tried.”
Williams acknowledged she was caught a little off-guard by how elaborate the scam seemed. She encouraged others to be cautious. “I would tell people that if they get a call like that, they should call (the real police agency) and double-check,” Williams said. “Yeah, that was pretty crazy.”