SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) –
The Springfield office of the FBI says its been receiving a large number of calls about romance scams and elder fraud.
On Wednesday they hosted a round table presentation for local media to talk about the problem and warn the general public about the schemes.
The speakers included a 69 year-old woman from Polk County who’s experienced a romance scam.
“He would tell me things I wanted to hear,” she said of a man she met through social media who fostered a relationship before informing her he’d moved to Nigeria and needed money to help pay unexpected tax costs. As time went on the woman also started receiving money from the man to buy local cars for him under her name, a laundering process the FBI refers to as the “money mule”.
Springfield FBI Supervisory Sr. Resident Agent Troy Murdock explained that senior citizens are often targeted because they tend to have nest eggs, excellent credit, are more trusting and are less of a risk to criminals because they are too embarrassed to report the scam.
And while the scammers use different approaches and contact methods including mail, phones and computers, most of them have the same basic goal.
“Their overarching scheme is to be able to get personal information and to then get as much money from them as they can,” Murdock said. “Then to use them as what we call the ‘money mule’ to transfer large amounts of money to other people who have been identified throughout their organization.”
There are well over three million elder fraud cases each year and 90 percent of those come at the hands of someone they know.
There are many types of scams out there besides the online romance approach. Senior citizens also get contacted about making home improvements, sending Bitcoin money to restore their Social Security identity, winning a large lottery prize but needing to send money first to cover the taxes and fake charity and telemarketing calls.
“One of the most popular out there right now is somebody calling saying they’re a U.S. Marshall and you’re getting ready to get arrested,” Murdock said. “Another one is what they call a ‘grandparent scam’. They’ll say, ‘Yeah, grandma it’s Billy. I’m out on the east coast, I just got involved in an accident, they’re holding me in jail and I need $500 to get out of jail.’”
It can happen to anybody.
Former FBI director William Webster and his wife were targeted by a Jamaican lottery scam in 2014. They were told they’d won a $72 million prize but needed to wire $50,000 first to pay for the taxes on their winnings.
When they didn’t send the money they were threatened by Keniel Thomas.
“I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill your husband. I’m going to set your house on fire,” Thomas said over the phone.
Thomas was eventually arrested and sentenced to six years in prison but the Webster case serves as a chilling reminder of just how far scammers will go and that if anyone wants you to pay money to get prize money, don’t do it.
Among the things you can do to protect yourself from abuse is to monitor your credit report, designate a power of attorney, send copies of your bank statement to a trusted individual and don’t add joint owners to your bank account.
And to avoid phone scams?
If you don’t know the number that is coming up on your telephone ID, don’t answer it.
“If that person needs to speak to you they will leave a message,” Murdock said.
Also remember that the IRS never calls you, the lottery never makes you pay for your winnings and utility companies and police departments don’t take gift cards as payment.
That well-known saying is never more true than when it refers to scammers.
“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Murdock said.
And use your head, not your heart.
“I know people are lonely or divorced and lost their spouses,” the woman who was scammed pointed out. “But this happens and it’s not good. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”
If you would like to report a scam you can access the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.
Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.