An increasing number of Johnson County residents are receiving false automated calls in the early hours of the morning. 

The message reportedly says, “This is Johnson County,” and is followed by garbled speech and static before it cuts out, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Marilyn Connolly. 

But it’s not a hacking of Johnson County’s official CodeRED system, she said. 

At least six people have received the message between Dec. 3 and Dec. 8, Connolly said, but she has no way of knowing the correct number of impacted residents because people either don’t report it or don’t know the correct outlet to do so. 

If anyone receives a call like this, she said, they should contact the Buffalo Police Department’s dispatch number, which is 684-5581. 

“When it wakes you up like that, you’re thinking you’ve got an emergency personal phone call coming in,” Connolly said. “It’s not a good thing; it’s like crying wolf. That’s why I wanted to immediately say it’s not the CodeRED system.”

It would be very difficult to hack the county’s official CodeRED emergency notification system, according to Connolly, because the robocall method involves a PIN number and launch code to activate the process. 

It’s never happened before, she said, but admitted that theoretically it could.

“Our system is pretty failsafe because the public doesn’t have access to those numbers. There’s a pin number and a launch code. So unless somebody gets hold of that we’re pretty safe,” she said.

If an emergency were to happen within the time frame of the false calls, 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., the CodeRED system would begin its automated message with “This is a CodeRED alert,” Connolly said. 

In addition, if residents check their caller ID, the CodeRED system will show a phone number that most likely ends in 5000, whereas the scam robocall is not showing a caller ID. 

“It’s coming from somewhere completely different than our CodeRED system. I called our CodeRED people and had them do a check and gave them the phone numbers of people that had been contacted, and our system hasn’t called them,” Connolly said. 

Other potential causes of the fake calls are scams or glitches in the other entities that use robocalls in the county, such as the Johnson County School District. 

JCSD Superintendent Gerry Chase ran a log of all the school system’s automated calls, however, and found that 100 percent of the calls since July have been outreach only. 

Connolly said that when she called the contracting company that runs the system, staff there told her of similar scams that had been ongoing nationwide.

She said that another incident that plagued the county earlier this summer was when the hospital and emergency dispatch phone line went down temporarily. 

That particular incident was traced to a group of hackers in Russia, after the FBI investigated the issue that had impacted not only Wyoming but also surrounding states, according to Connolly. 

“It’s just sort of eerie to think that people in foreign countries (could do that),” Connolly said. “We think in our town we’re isolated from just about everything, and we are not. We’re not immune as much as we’d like it.”

Connolly said that should the CodeRED system be hacked or malfunction during an emergency, the emergency management team has backup options, such as using a radio system and even knocking on the doors of affected residents. 

Connolly is still investigating the issue, hoping to contact other local and state entities that use the service. 

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