CEDAR RAPIDS — Threats of violence against a Cedar Rapids business led to a response from the bomb squad Wednesday morning.
Police said the threats were believed to be part of a nationwide scam and are warning other business and homeowners.
Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said police officers and members of the bomb squad responded at 8:30 a.m. to CVS Pharmacy, 3419 16th Ave SW for threats made against the store. Police said the suspect called the store, asked to speak with the manager and then demanded that six money grams be provided to the caller. The suspect said if the manager did not comply, he and his employees would be harmed.
Before more information could be gathered, the call was disconnected, Buelow said.
“The manager did the right thing by taking the threat seriously,” Buelow said.
Officers did not find anything suspicious at the store and believe the business was the victim of a nationwide scam. What makes this scam different from most, however, was the threat of violence.
“That’s obviously something that ramps it up and — again — makes it more threatening and makes someone feel more vulnerable,” Buelow said. “It’s another tactic of these scammers.”
Buelow said police believe Wednesday’s threat is connected to the so-called “Green Dot” scams that have hit other regions of the country, named for the Green Dot money cards that scammers seek from their potential victims. Buelow points to an incident that occurred last Friday when a person claiming to be an Alliant Energy employee called a business and told them their overdue utility bill needed to be paid immediately. The caller told the employee that they needed to go to a drugstore and purchase a gift card to pay the balance. The employee was then to call back with the gift card number.
The scam was thwarted only when a drugstore employee advised the potential victim that he should call the police and Alliant Energy. Alliant Energy advised the employee they would not request bill payments via gift cards.
“They’re not only targeting businesses,” Buelow said. “It’s not unusual for them in other jurisdictions to call a homeowner.”
Buelow advised anyone who receives this type of call to take the threat seriously, but never send the caller money. He said to listen to the caller’s voice and listen for defining characteristics, such as gender and accent.
The Better Business Bureau also advises people to be wary of numbers that come up on caller ID since that can be changed. Don’t feel pressured by immediate demands for payment and don’t give out your account number or personal information to solicitors, the bureau said.