Local News

FBI warns of phone scam

Posted August 20, 2008

— The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning people of a scam in which the victim’s telephone number is changed as a way to isolate them.

The scam begins with a person calling in regard to a big prize, FBI agents said. The scammer then gets identity information, such as the last four-digits of the person’s Social Security number. Victims are usually asked to wire money before they can receive the prize.

Scammers contact the phone company, posing as the victim, and ask to change the phone number because of nuisance calls. The scammers provide the last four-digits of the Social Security number as a verification of identity, and the number gets changed.

Sally, who would not give her real name, said her 75-year-old mother fell victim to the scam.

“It's a scary thought that your parent has been taken and used and you know how hard they have worked their whole life to earn that money,” Sally said.

After Sally’s mother wired the first round of money, other people called her posing as government agents, even giving fake badge numbers.

“There were IRS agents calling her, lawyers calling, FBI agents calling,” Sally said.

Scammers wanted her to wire more money out of the country. Sally said her mother sent thousands of dollars to the scammers and, because it was wired out of the country, it is untraceable.

Scammers then changed Sally’s mother’s phone number, so the only people she could speak with were them because only they knew the new number.

“I called the number and they told me it had been disconnected,” Sally said. She was only out of touch with her mother for a day before finding out what happened.

“The scammers are changing the numbers to isolate the victim,” FBI Special Agent Joan Fleming said.

Fleming said she has heard of threats of bodily harm in a similar scamming case in Chapel Hill.

No special agent, government or bank official would ever call a person asking for money to be wired, Fleming said.

Sally wants people to keep an eye on their families. She is also concerned her mother could fall victim again.

“She will tell you that she understands and she is not going to do it again, but depending on who calls that afternoon, they may have her talked into sending more money by that afternoon,” Sally said.

The FBI said there are warning signs to look for with family members:

  • Excessive mail – a compulsion to answer sweepstakes or charity and contest mailings
  • Excessive calls – a compulsion to answer un-ending calls, or reluctance to answer because they’ve already been harassed by 50 earlier calls that day
  • Unusual financial transactions – wiring, when wiring is something the person has never done, a large amount of money
  • Preoccupation with Fed Ex or UPS or other shipping companies, – waiting for money or a package
  • Generally secretive nature – many scammers ask victims to keep the winnings to themselves and not tell their families until money arrives

This story is closed for comments.

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  • taurismo Aug 21, 2008

    To alwayslovingu3-0--

    Send any emails or written scams to the attorney general. The local sheriff won't do anything but the AG will do whatever he can. That's what he gets paid for.

  • TheAdmiral Aug 21, 2008

    Ya know - after 10 years of knowing there are scams out there - you would think that the heuristics would become learned and the people wouldn't get taken advantage of.

    But, Alas, we have a bunch of slow thinking people who believe in salvation by channel 3, and that the FBI need to track down 80 year old ladies and their trust funds.

    Just give me the money and I will make sure that whomever gets it needs it.

  • fkhaywood Aug 21, 2008

    A very high percentage of the elderly do not have access to the Internet and do not take a newspaper, as these items cost money. Also many elderly have been exposed to computers, when and if they ever worked, remember PC's only came out about 1980! Providing web sites for the the elderly to check out will not work.

    I am 61 and very computer literate and I get several emails a day telling me that I have won millions in some lottery overseas or that some Nigerian has died and they want me to share in the proceeds of a multi million dollar estate. I have also gotten several emails from purported foreign companies wanting me to handle large cash tranactions for them. I know that these are all some type of span, phishing, or other type of activity that are not what they claim to be; that is why I have a Span folder on my email account. The elderly are too easily trapped by these activities resulting in lost savings.

  • CestLaVie Aug 21, 2008

    scubagirl: It's protection against identity theft that you can purchase. I've heard it advertised on radio, I think.


  • iron fist Aug 21, 2008

    I shred all my junk mail anything with my name and address, if I don't reconize the phone number on my caller ID or if the number is unvailable I don't answer.

  • NANA13 Aug 21, 2008

    People trying to get something for nothing (greed) usually pays the highest price

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Aug 21, 2008

    hi_i_am_wade: "Do what I do, if the number is comes up "unknown" or from out of state without a name, don't answer. Let them leave a message and you call them back."

    Use Caller ID to determine what calls to answer. If you don't answer a call, and its important, they WILL leave a message. Heck, I sometimes don't answer anyone's call, even family, if I'm watching a ballgame or movie.

  • workerbee Aug 21, 2008

    Provide the older person a cell phone only. I like that idea actually. They keep it with them all the time and it's there if they fall, feel faint, etc. And the scammers don't have access to the number. Very good idea.

  • JAT Aug 21, 2008

    Hasn't Sally talked to her mom about not doing things like this? Maybe Sally should have worried about the mental health of her mother before all this happened. Again, though, it's the ol' adage of people wanting something for nothing. Sally's mom knew (unless she is mentally impaired, and if so, she should have access to money) that she had done nothing deserving of a big prize.

  • Scubagirl Aug 21, 2008

    msudawg==what is Life Lock?