State and local officials are warning South Carolinians to be careful during the holiday season because scammers are currently targeting people and businesses in multiple, nefarious ways.

Across the state, businesses are getting inquiries that are really scams from people claiming to be selling certificates of existence and other documents for $399.89, S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond warned this week. And in the Lowcountry, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) is warning that a new phone scam is targeting local residents who have loved ones in jail. Three incidents have been reported thus far.

“We often see an increase in fraudulent activity like this during the holidays,” said CCSO spokesman Andrew Knapp. “It’s unfortunate that scammers exploit people’s vulnerabilities at a time like this. But it’s important for everyone to remember that if something seems fishy, it’s probably not legitimate.”

Just hang up

“Law enforcement will not call you up asking for money,” Knapp said. “If you get a call like that, the best thing to do is just hang up.”

Here’s how this ruse works: Scammers pose as members of either the sheriff’s office or the Al Cannon Detention Center. The caller then convinces the victim to send money through various electronic payment apps, such as Venmo and Zelle, to release a loved one from jail.

Two of the victims were reportedly tricked into sending around $1,500 via Cash App and Zelle respectively, the office said. A third victim reported a deception involving the transfer of about $4,000 through both Cash App and Venmo. The victim said the phone scammer provided false, convincing information that a loved one was in danger, which persuaded the victim to send the money.

In all three incidents, the sheriff’s office said victims eventually became suspicious of the calls and would later confirm with law enforcement personnel that they had been scammed. But by the time reports were made, the majority of the transfers had already gone through — one of the transactions was still pending —  which meant the money could not be returned.

State businesses targeted, too

Hammond said his office has been notified that scammers are targeting businesses and identifying themselves as “South Carolina Certified Document Services.”

“This entity is sending letters to South Carolina businesses claiming that they need to pay $399.89 and remain in good standing.” The letter also offers an option to purchase documents separately, including $89.95 for a “certificate of existence.”

Hammond emphasized that his office is the only entity in the state that can issue a certificate of existence. “Furthermore, the fee for a certificate of existence is set by statute and is only $10, not $89.95.”

The scam also reportedly offers a labor law poster for $124.95 and an Employer Identification Number for $199.99. Both are, Hammond said, free from the National Labor Relations Board and Internal Revenue Service, respectively.

What to do: If you get a scam offer like Hammond described or any unusual correspondence,  you should contact his office immediately, he said, at (803) 734-2170. More information is available online at:

How to avoid being a scam victim

The sheriff’s office offered several tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of phone scams:

  • Don’t make any rash or emotional decisions. CCSO recommends residents slow down and take a breath amidst suspicious phone calls. Residents should then hang up, ignore messages and block the caller.
  • Be skeptical of callers. CCSO said scammers may try to use real CCSO employee names, spoof real law enforcement phone numbers or use legitimate-looking email addresses. CCSO recommends residents be skeptical of caller ID information, and not to click on any links in emails from unknown senders.
  • Be careful sharing personal details. CCSO warns residents against giving out personal information, including full names, addresses or social security numbers.
  • Add protection to payment apps. CCSO recommends residents turn on the “for purchases” slider when using a payment app and dealing with a recipient they don’t know. Turning on the slider adds protection for the payer, which includes full refunds on disputed transactions.
  • Do your research. CCSO suggests that any residents that are concerned about possible predicaments described by callers should inquire with CCSO immediately to figure out if the situation is real or not. 

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam in Charleston County, or to inquire about potential incidents, you should contact the CCSO at (843) 202-1700 or via the Sheriff’s Office website.

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