KNOXVILLE (WATE) - If you get a call from someone claiming you can avoid arrest on a warrant by buying a Green Dot debit card, don't bite.
A Knoxville woman was led to believe a caller claiming she had run a red light and missed her court date.
Automated sentries stand watch at intersections, snapping pictures of drivers who run them. Love them or hate them, red light cameras are installed for safety purposes according to police.
The cameras are found in 24 states and more than 540 communities throughout the country, including many here in East Tennessee.
This story isn't about what critics have to say about the cameras, but instead focuses on how easy it can be to get fooled by someone claiming you missed your court date.
Sydney Watkins' answering machine was full the other day shortly after returning from an out of state trip.
As Mrs. Watkins scrolled through the messages, mainly from family members, it was the last call, number eight, that caught her attention.
"I'm trying to reach Sydney Watkins," said the voice on the machine. "This is Lt. Mike Turner, if you could return my call please."
The man then gave a phone number with a 706 area code. That area code is in North Georgia, where Sydney had been visiting.
"He said we had gone through a traffic light," Watkins explained. "A photo had been taken, but we did not appear in court."
There's a red light camera within a mile of Mrs. Watkins home. She knows how accurate the cameras are and is aware of the consequences if a fine isn't paid promptly.
"What really got my attention: he said if you get pulled over, you will be arrested and taken into jail because you did not appear in court," she said. "He said what we needed to do is go ahead and pay. Go to CVS and put $498 on a Green [Dot] card."
Watkins says she thought the call was real and the man sounded professional.
Wanting to talk with Lt. Mike Turner ourselves, 6 On Your Side called the number that he left with Mrs. Watkins. The line was no longer in service.
Throughout East Tennessee, ever-present cameras have caught thousands of people running red lights, but if you miss a court date or fail to pay in advance, you don't have to provide one of those pre-paid money cards to someone like Mike Turner for a non-existent traffic violation.
In Knoxville, most people pay red light violation fines directly without going to court. They pay either in person or send a payment through the mail.
Mrs. Watkins realizes her money is long gone.
"I guess in hindsight, what I should have done is hang up and say let me call you back. I did not do that," she admitted.
Watkins is not the only person to fall for this pretty obvious hoax.
There are dozens of reports from around the country of people believing the scam and following the caller's instructions about the pre-paid cards.
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