I Spied A Scam

By John Sparks

John SparksOur office receives countless calls about scams. We do our best to let our members know about things to watch out for. Did you know about BBB’s Scam Tracker?  BBB launched Scam Tracker  in 2015 to provide consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud, and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities.

Here’s an example of a recent scam I got to experience with one of our members:

Scammer:  Ok, we’ll be happy to send you your money as soon as we receive your payment for the processing fee, ma’am.

Consumer:  And where do you need me to wire the money? What’s the location?

Scammer:  Sure, we just need that money sent by Western Union wire transfer to the Walmart in (insert name of an average town in Texas).

Hold on, maybe I should back up.

Stop before you send moneyThe other day, I listened in on a scam call. A lady in her 60s or 70s had called the Kansas City BBB office about a government grant. Callers were offering her a few thousand dollars, as long as she paid a few hundred dollars in fees.

This is a scam we hear about all the time.  In recent months I’ve taken more calls about this type of scam than any other. I often have to remind consumers that applying for government grants is a laborious process. Government grant money never comes as a surprise, and no government grant requires you to pay money down for so-called processing fees or taxes in order for the applicant to receive it.

The consumer, who I’ll refer to as Maria, was quickly convinced that she had been contacted by scammers once I started relaying this information.  Luckily, she had contacted the Greater Kansas City BBB before any money had changed hands. As per protocol, I asked Maria for any information she had on the scam calls she’d received (phone numbers, names, amounts asked for etc.) Maria was happy to provide what information she had. We were getting ready to end the call when I heard a phone ring on the other end of the line.

“It’s them again,” Maria said. “Let’s see what else we can get out of them.”

I was talking to Maria on her cell phone and the scammer had called her house phone. We decided to put the land line on speaker phone while Maria pretended to take the bait and ask the scammer where she needs to send the money.

So now, back to the call…

Consumer:  All right. I’ll go ahead and send that out to you soon. Will sometime early next week be all right?

Scammer:  Next week will be fine. We’ll be sure to look out for the transfer.

The scammer sounded like a male in his mid to late thirties. He spoke in a crisp general American dialect; he could have been from anywhere. One distinguishing factor about scam calls is that the caller tends to have a foreign accent. Obviously, this is not always the case. Consumers also report that phone scammers are often pushy or aggressive, refusing to drop their proposal until they are hung up on. This guy was mild mannered, calm and collected. It just goes to show that scammers can be very cunning and can sound like anyone.

Maria wrapped up the call, promising she would be sending the money soon. The additional time on the phone with the scammer didn’t yield a huge amount of intelligence on the operation. It did give us a location where the scammers wanted money to be wired. At least it was exciting; for five minutes I felt like a secret agent in a spy movie. More importantly, the phone call was very useful from an educational standpoint. I was able to experience the average scam call first hand… the kind consumers experience daily before reporting the problem to the BBB.

So, if you spot a business or offer that sounds like a scam, tell us about it. Help us investigate and warn others by reporting what you know.

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