By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

New phone scam targeting elderly residents

 


A new phone scam that has spread throughout the state of Nebraska and has caused some elderly residents to give up over $10,000 to scam artists has recently surfaced in Kimball.

The scam, which revolves around Walgreens Green Dot MoneyPak cards, often starts with receiving a call originating from either Jamaica or another foreign country stating that the person has won a large sum of money.

However, the call quickly starts to weave a sinister scheme by telling the person that in order for them to receive their winnings they must first send a seemingly small by comparison sum in order for the prize to be sent to them.

This was the case recently with local resident Mrs. Dale Yung, who was contacted by a caller telling her that she had won a large sum of money and would receive her winning if she “just sent them $1,000 on a credit card”.

After being instructed to place the money on a Green Dot MoneyPak card at Walgreens, Yung, who states that which Walgreens in the area was not even specified, called and talked to a manager at a Walgreens store in Scottsbluff and quickly learned that she was not the only one that had been contacted by the caller.

“He said I’m about the hundredth caller in 30 days to have that happen,” Yung said.

In keeping with the general pattern of the scam, Yung stated that the phone number had, in fact, originated from Jamaica when checked on her caller id and that the caller had spoken to her with a thick Jamaican accent.

“I couldn’t hardly understand him. He said his name was Jason McDonald, but he probably pulled that out of a hat too,” Yung said.

According to Kimball Police Chief Darren Huff, this method of extorting money from residents, in most cases elderly residents, has been used for many variations of the same scam over the past several years.

“These are something that we see all the time, and people, when they get a call like this and somebody tells them that they won $1.5 million and a car, they want to believe it. They’re so excited. The person makes it sound so wonderful and makes it sound legitimate. They even start using terms like “well they’re going to be government taxes on these winnings” and “delivery fees” and things like that,” Huff said.

However, though the scam artist will try to make it sound legitimate through the use of technical language, there are red flags that can instantly reveal that the person on the other end of the phone is a scammer.

“The weird thing is almost 99.9 percent of all of these calls are coming from one of two places: Jamaica or it’s somewhere in India. Those are the two biggest ones: India and Jamaica, “ Huff said. “They’ll say, ‘All you have to do is go to Western Union and wire us the money, and we’ll get this stuff to you in a week’s time.’ Or they’ll say, ‘Go to your neighborhood Walgreens and get a refillable visa card and call me up and tell me what the number is, and that’ll be enough. Put x amount of dollars on this visa.’”


However, some times the scam artist will send potential victims money as a show of good faith, resulting in establishing a level of trust in order to exploit residents to a greater extent.

“Let’s say the caller sends you something like a check. We see this all the time. When I was up north, we actually got U.S. Postal money order checks, and they were brilliant. They had the embossment through them. They had the strip. They looked dead on like the real deal. In fact, a bank cashed them, because they didn’t think twice. When you’re looking at federal U.S. currency, well now there are all kinds of telltale things that tell us if it’s real money,” Huff said.

With the particular scam mentioned, the victim who was able to actually cash the checks at a local bank was quickly put in an even more dire situation when the bank caught on to the fake checks and had to reclaim the money that it had given out.

“After she took that money, now not only is she a victim, granted she’s a victim, but she just took money from the bank that didn’t exist. They’re not going to get any reimbursement for it. Their recourse is going to be going after her saying, ‘Hey, we gave you $3,000 of these checks that you got.’ Her instructions were similarly the same. She had to take the money that she got. She got to keep so much, but then she had to give $1,000 of each one and take it to a Western Union and wire it to them, and she didn’t catch on to it,” Huff said.

Fortunately, in the end, the potential damage was decreased by the quick action of the bank and the police department in collaboration with the FBI.

“The FBI was really quick to get involved. They said, ‘I know you’re a victim here. But unfortunately, it’s not your money. You have to return it.’ Luckily, she hadn’t spent a lot of it, and she was able to return a lot of it. That is probably one of the best scams that I’ve seen to date, the one with the U.S. Postal money orders. That was a good one,” Huff said.

According to Jim Hegarty, President and CEO of the regional Better Business Bureau, this new scam, along with a plethora of older scams like it, is very prevalent in the region.

“We encounter it on a weekly basis. The last week we had two victims that had each lost over $10,000 in schemes that involved the Green Dot MoneyPak cards,” Hegarty said.

The current changeover to the use of the MoneyPaks instead of wire transfers through Western Union is due to scammers adapting to the increase in information and alertness on behalf of wire transfer service providers and local banks due to the spreading of information by the Better Business Bureau by adopting a method of extortion that would seemingly fly under the radar of all entities involved.

“The scammers now, because the Better Business Bureau and many of these wire transfer services have partnered to issue warnings and empowered their employees to refuse to make these transactions if they suspect that they’re related to fraud, are pretty tuned into that. So they’re sending people to convenience stores or to pharmacies or grocery stores or Walgreens to purchase these Green Dot MoneyPak cards hoping that the clerks that sell them would not be as intuitive, perhaps, as the folks that have been involved in this longer,” Hegarty said.

Even the company that makes the MoneyPak cards has made it a point to put warnings on the Moneypak packaging with warnings of the potential use in the new scam.

“There are fairly bold warnings indicating that, you know, if you’ve been told to purchase one of these MoneyPaks to send money to someone to collect a prize or because of an emergency it could be a scam. The Green Dot folks are trying to get this information on the packaging itself,” Hegarty said.

However, this seemingly does little good, as large sums are still being scammed from residents in alarming amounts.

“We had an individual contact us yesterday that he had sent $1,240, and he received a call the next day telling him that there was going to be an excise tax to collect his prize that would be another $1,240. As soon as they send that, it just goes on and on, and their customs agents will call them and say they’ve been detained and they’re required to pay fees to U.S. customs in order to move the prize into the United States, and it’s never ending the list of reasons,” Hegarty said. “We’ve seen senior victims in their 80s that have been dragged along for a couple of years by the same scammers who play off one another and have gotten some of these folks for over $150,000,” Hegarty said.

As mentioned by Hegarty, It is also important to note that this is not a quick hit scam. This is something that can be drawn out for months or years in order for the scammer to achieve the large amounts of money desired.

“It’s very methodical. It’s a very methodical process in which the scammers socially engineer their victims over a lengthy period. Well, as long as the victims will allow it to take place. Oftentimes, by the time we’ve discovered that a senior has lost $5,000 or $10,000 and then the family becomes aware of it and they come in and start digging around and they’ll see that these individuals have been wrapped up in similar schemes over a long period of time,” Hegarty said.

Typically the desired victims are members of the elderly population who may not be able to fully comprehend that they are being taken advantage of.

“Some people because of medical conditions or their age they become mentally compromised so the scammers are making tens of thousands of calls. They’re sending hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail into the U.S. hoping that they’re able to hit on somebody that maybe has some compromised mental capacity, and those are the individuals that they exploit the most,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty points out that there are key ways to tell whether or not any proposition received over the phone is a scam, the most obvious of which being that it comes with a stipulation of first giving up money to receive the prize.

“If they’re being told that they have to pay any amount of money in order to collect or receive their prize, it is a scam. That’s it. That’s the red flag, bottom line. If you’re being told that, hang up the phone and contact the Better Business Bureau or local law enforcement immediately, because it is a scam,” Hegarty said.

Though the scammers might try to convince you that it is not a scam but that the money sent up front is merely a product surrounding the special circumstances of the prize, it is important to not let yourself be swayed from taking the appropriate action, according to Hegarty.

“They’ll tell you, ‘We know the Better Business Bureau tells you that you never have to pay to collect a prize and usually that’s true, but in our case because of this or because of that, you are going to have to pay this fee.’ Those are lies, and they are guaranteed tip-offs. The tip-off to the rip-off is that. If you have to pay, hang up the phone, because it’s a scam,” Hegarty said.

However, even if one does identify the phone call and offer as a scam and refuse to give any information, it is likely that the calls may continue for weeks.

“They will call until you change your number, or they just finally decide that there isn’t anything they can do to convince you that they’re not scammers. We have victims where they’ve told them that they’ve reached out to the BBB, they’ve filled out police reports that had losses of over $10,000, and the scammers are continuing to contact them weeks later,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty explains that these are not amateurs that are calling and attempting to extort funds, and residents should not let their guard down should they find themselves on the phone with one of them.

“I’ve spoken to many of these scammers over the phone posing as a winner who’s received a notification or a relative of someone who they’ve contacted. Until you have actually engaged with them, it’s sort of difficult to understand how easy it is to be drawn in by them. They’re professionals, and this is what they do every day for a living. They are very clever, very convincing, and it’s very easy to understand how anybody could be duped,” Hegarty said.

Though once caught up in the scam or after giving up any money it can be hard to sever yourself from the situation, the key to keeping both yourself and your finances safe is to cut off the communication at the very beginning without letting any curiosity get the better of you, according to Hegarty.

“If you ever receive one of these notices, the most important prevention tip is don’t ever make the phone call. Don’t ever follow the instructions to learn more, because that is how they lure you in. This is just a fishing expedition that these individuals are involved in and you never ever want to take the bait,” Hegarty said.

Though there is little recourse once the scam is in effect and one has been caught up in it, prevention and spreading information is key in making sure that the number of those who fall victim to the methods described is minimal.

“One thing that family members can do is call the Better Business Bureau and get one of the BBB Senior Line magnets for the refrigerators of their loved ones that are in that elderly category. Those are designed to be a quick, helpful reminder to folks that if they are receiving a suspicious off or strange phone call to just call that number real quickly and one of our responders can help them sort through whether it’s a legit deal or not,” Hegarty said.

If anyone receives a suspicious phone call concerning prizes or vacations or anything of the sort, Hegarty advises that they call the Better Business Bureau lest they find themselves victimized by one of the various scams out there.

“This is just one of many, many, many schemes and scams that people fall victim to. And there are so many that it’s impossible for us to mention them all. That’s why we just want people to call us if they have any suspicion at all that it’s a strange offer,” Hegarty said.

Chief Huff echoed Hegarty’s advice, advising local residents to either call the BBB or contact the Kimball Police Department at the first suspicion that they’re dealing with a scam artist.

“What we will do is we will check the number. We will get in touch with the FBI, and we will let them know what we got,” Huff said.

Huff also stressed the importance of not giving out any information over the phone to an untrusted source, especially one asking money in order to give out any supposed winnings.

“If you win the lottery or something like that, you’ll be notified by certified mail from the government that you’ll pay taxes on those winnings, and they don’t require you to pay them up front to be notified that you’re a winner. It doesn’t work that way. So that should be something that should be kind of a big red flag to tell you you’re being messed with, and this is not good,” Huff said.

Any elderly members of the community who think they are being contacted or have been contacted by a scam artist can call the Senior Line Number of the Better Business Bureau at 1-877-637-3334.

 

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