Last updated at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21

The Fairbanks Police Department issued a warning on Facebook Wednesday about a scam involving someone claiming to be detective Avery Thompson.

“In this scam ‘Detective Thompson’ advises the caller a complaint has been made against them and he ultimately asks for payment to help resolve the complaint in lieu of a criminal investigation,” police explained on Facebook. “The scammer will advise the caller the complaint originates from them speaking with or sending digital images (sometimes explicit) via text communications to a minor.”

While Thompson does work for the department, FPD stated emphatically that he did not make the calls.

“Since it is a crime to impersonate a law enforcement officer, Detective Thompson is conducting further investigation into this matter,” said officer Doug Welborn. 

Welborn said Thompson is so far the only FPD employee whose name is being used in the scam.

In a phone interview, Thompson said he was surprised to learn the scammers were using his name, but said it was likely picked at random based on research into a specific target area, namely Fairbanks.

“Why me? Dang it!” he laughed.

He explained the scammers were using a voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) system that could disguise the number they are calling from, making it appear the call is coming from FPD headquarters. He demonstrated this by “calling” from the main KTVA number while at home in North Pole. Thompson said the system used is widely available and not illegal, at least not until it’s used in a crime like this one.

Two Fairbanks residents have called FPD about receiving a call from Thompson, police stated. Thompson said police know of other calls as well that haven’t been formally reported, and some people have paid the scammers in a sophisticated multi-step plan.

“So kinda how this works, is it’s not that ‘detective Avery Thompson’ is saying, ‘hey, here’s the deal, you pay money or you’re going to face charges,'” Thompson explained. “What he’s doing is he’s saying, ‘you need to get in touch with the family and you need to make it right with the family.’ So he’s encouraging them, and then of course, he’s also most likely the family member that they’re going to be calling as well and he’s arranging for them to make payments to avoid the police being involved any further.”

Law enforcement officers will not call and ask for payment, Thompson said, adding that they will also not push for alleged criminals to “make things right” with families in this way.

Anyone with questions about a phone call, text or email allegedly from FPD is encouraged to call 907-450-6500 to confirm its validity. Thompson said if you become suspicious during a call, get the person’s name and information, hang up and contact the agency they claim to be from and ask to be reconnected to them.

Similar scams where the caller claims to be with Alaska State Troopers have been reported in the past. In those calls, someone demands payment in order for the targeted victim to avoid a warrant or to fix a supposedly missed court appearance. Anyone with questions about a possible warrant for their arrest can contact troopers at 907-451-5100. A list of current trooper warrants can be found here.

Thompson said anyone targeted by scams like this can help law enforcement by taking notes and not erasing any texts, emails or voicemails associated with the scam. Any record of the scam and those involved can help police in their investigation, he explained.