No More Warnings: This Is a Real Phone Scam

Real Phone Scam Featured

The writers here at Make Tech Easier write often about scams and hacks. We report the news of the recent scams, show you how to keep yourself safe from being hacked, discuss products that can help protect your personal data, etc. We do a lot. And the reason is because we care and really want to prevent our readers from becoming victims.

Background

And that’s why I am telling this very personal story. I want to save this from happening to other people. Today I’m not writing the news of a new scam that was just discovered. This time I am writing about a very personal, scary scam that is happening to my 82-year-old recently widowed father. He now lives alone and deals with some memory issues.

The Scam

Real Phone Scam Landline

The fraud team associated with the financial advisor my father entrusts with his money told us this is a popular scam. It’s sometimes known as the Jamaican Lottery Scam. If you are a victim of this scam, you have been told some or all of the following things via phone.

  • You have won the lottery with Publisher’s Clearing House.
  • The winnings are varying amounts over $1 million and a white Mercedes Benz.
  • You have to pay taxes, fees, shipping, insurance, etc., on your winnings and need to pay that before you can collect.
  • They will come and deliver the car and the money to your door.
  • You need to send the money via a transfer from Walmart to Walmart, through MoneyGram or Western Union, or simply provide your banking information.

Additionally, the scammers, who are usually located in Jamaica, use the victims as a money-laundering scheme. Sometimes when a victim is sending money, they aren’t really sending to the scammers – they’re sending it to another victim who thinks they are receiving it from the scammers.

The scammers can often badger the victims. This comes in the form of repeated phone calls that can sometimes even threaten violence if their money demands aren’t met. They may also start sending demands through the mail.

If a victim is lucky enough to get the scammers to stop, it doesn’t mean their worries are over. The scammers often sell their victim lists to other scammers. Once your number has been opened up to them, you may never get rid of them.

Frequently the victims are recent widows/widowers who are very vulnerable out of loneliness, fear, etc. They find the victims by perusing obituaries, which also gives them family member names, general location, etc., to where they can look up phone numbers and addresses.

It is important for everyone to remember that official sweepstakes and lotteries will never call you up and ask you to pay money before collecting your winnings. If you are told this, it is 100% a scam.

Our Scenario

Real Phone Scam Older Man

My father was told he won the lottery, was led to believe they were connected with Publishers Clearing House, and that he would get $2 million dollars and a white Mercedes-Benz. He was very excited to tell me he would be a millionaire in a few days.

We first found out that he was preparing to send them two $10,000 cashiers checks and that they would be at his door a few days later to give him the money and the car. We were able to talk him out of it, but he still believes if he would have sent the money in that he would have gotten those prizes.

Later we checked his bank accounts and found that he had a $500 withdrawal. He says he does not remember taking the money out and does not have it. We believe he sent it to the scammers and that he either truly doesn’t remember it or is too embarrassed to admit to sending it.

Aftermath

Real Phone Scam Keypad

He is still holding on to the checks he wrote. The last he told me was that he was only going to give them the checks if they showed up at his door.

We took his phone off the hook for a while, but the scammers resumed calling him when it was back online. He eventually unplugged all his phones to get them to stop calling. They would call every minute or so, repeatedly. He’s not very technical, so he wound up also killing his Internet and TV. He lived for a few days in a silent house.

We eventually changed his phone number and got him a new service. We are also in the process of taking over control of his finances to keep it safe, with his approval.

But there will always be more scammers. And that’s the scariest thing of all. Hopefully this story was scary enough to you that you’ll remember it and can educate the older people in your life to make sure they don’t get taken in. It really is just that easy to get scammed and fall for it.

12 comments

  1. “We eventually changed his phone number and got him a new service.”
    That’s one way to stop the scam. But it’s drastic, especially for on older person and you don’t know how long it is going to be before the scam starts again.

    I would suggest first to register with NoMoRobo. That way you do not need to change the phone number. Once you the number is registered, all caller numbers are checked against NoMoRobo database and rejected if found. The only caveat is that you let the phone ring more than once. If the phone rings only once, you know that the caller was on the “bad number” list.

    The nice thing about NoMoRobo is that you can add numbers to their to-be-blocked list. If you know the number(s) the scammers are using, you can add them to the NoMoRobo list and they will be automatically blocked from then on. I’ve had NoMoRobo for a few years now and it works like a charm. The US Do Not Call List does not apply to politicians and political campaigns and some other types of callers. Adding their numbers to the NoMoRobo database, I was able to block those annoying calls from political campaigns. I would highly recommend NoMoRobo to everybody

    1. We took the drastic step of changing his number because we changed his whole service as well. He was with a service that didn’t always work well for him, and my husband works for another big phone/Internet/TV service, and it would be easier to get my dad help if he was on that service, so we took the opportunity. We’d been talking about switching his service anyway, so used that opportunity to just change everything.

      And these are very sophisticated scammers. They would have gotten through. I researched it and found they have several numbers. Every time you block one, they just use another. Once we caught on to them, they started using “private number” to call so that we couldn’t trace it or block them through something like that. That’s another problem with the phone services that block scams is that they only block the known numbers. So then you’re constantly having to stay one step ahead to keep blocking them. And many times they’ve already sold your number to other scammers as well.

      Interestingly, they have more protections on mobile phones than they do on landlines. I use Hiya on my mobile, and it does identify many solicitor and spam calls but not all.

      So we knew to cut this one off completely, we just had to change the number. We’re playing a high stakes game on this one and just could take the chance.

      1. “That’s another problem with the phone services that block scams is that they only block the known numbers.”
        Blocking services are reactive, not proactive. Analogous to what the case is with malware. It’s kinda hard to block unknown numbers. :-)

        “Interestingly, they have more protections on mobile phones than they do on landlines.”
        Since many consider landlines an archaic technology, no wonder. There is no profit in maintaining and supporting landlines.

        “I use Hiya on my mobile, and it does identify many solicitor and spam calls but not all.”
        Is Hiya predictive or does it just have an extensive database of numbers from which solicitor and spam/scam calls might come from? NoMoRobo works very well for landlines.

        The nogoodniks are getting by blocking services and our vigilance by spoofing local numbers. The next step for them is to spoof the phone numbers we accept.

        1. I believe Hiya just has an extensive database since it doesn’t block all and because I can always add numbers as I go along. And it doesn’t “block” them, per se, but identifies them on my phone as as such.

          And yes, certainly the nefarious individuals are getting creative. They’ve already figured out how to spoof the number they calling.

          It kind of seems like that’s the way it goes with most nefarious tech-minded individuals. Developers have constantly stay one step ahead of them. Every time they figure out a way to step the scammers, et al, they figure out a way to counteract it, leaving the developers to have to find another way to stop them. It’s neverending.

  2. We had a family member that was scammed by this same SCAM. Unfortunately, the family did not detect it until she had paid a pretty good sum to the scammers. After it was detected, we changed phones and numbers and the scammers quickly discovered the new phones. The promise of lottery winnings turned into threats against her and family members. 911 calls were made to check on resident so she had rescue and police show up at her door several times. In addition, deliveries of food and flowers from local businesses that she never ordered showed up at her door ordered by the person she had been in contact with. This created a sense of fear in the family member thinking they were local and would come to harm her. They even attempted to clean our her bank account, but fortunately being a small town the bank teller knew it was not our family member attempting to withdraw all of the money. All of this was turned over to the local and state authorities, but unfortunately these scammers exist in Jamaica and there is little police can do to thwart these thieves. Do know they are very good at their ‘job’ and can convince people to do things that you would think they would normally not do. Our family member was a recent widow as well, but nobody ever thought she would fall for something like this. And the real problem is once they fall for it, they are too embarrassed to admit what they have done and in her case continued to pay hoping that the promise would make it all right….

    Ultimately we bought a prepaid cell phone to disconnect her from the spammers and one of the family members took over her finances.

    I believe the best solution at hand is to get this information out to people and to have the conversation with your family members about not responding to callers they do not know. Inform them of the types of SCAMs that exist and to never ever give out your information over the phone or in an email as organizations do not solicit information in this manner.

    1. Mike, I’m so sorry this happened to your family member, but I appreciate you sharing your story to help educate others. I think you’re right on target that it is embarrassing to older people once they’re taken in and that they don’t want to share what happened because of that.

      We had heard that the scammers may resort to sending flowers and pizzas to try to stay in contact. I sounds like everything we hard could happened as happened to you family member. Again, I’m so sorry to learn that happened to her.

      We know without a doubt that we have to stay on top of this and not back down. However, as long as we take control of his finances, the scammers won’t have any recourse.

  3. Most any phone can be set up to only accept calls from certain numbers, say only family members or friends but that’s not really the issue…

    What I’m reading here isn’t about trying to outsmart some despicable scum, it’s criminal, illegal and should be reported probably to FBI if in US or equivalent elsewhere.

    Do what you can to protect yourselves, of course but this is NOT just another side effect of global connectivity; these types of nefarious behavior have been going on forever; your service provider, bank, credit cards, anyone else in the chain has a duty to fight illegal activities. These people can be caught.

    Thanks for sharing these unfortunate circumstances; more people need to be aware of them.

  4. You say that they started sending him demands through the mail. You should notify the Postal Inspectors of this. They are amazing at how many people that apprehend in relation to mail fraud. Mail fraud is a federal offense and can lead to large fines and prison time.

    1. Actually no. This was not connected to anything from the mail. All conversation was done via his home phone.

  5. As old people, my husband and I never answer a phone call that cannot be identified. We let the answering machine answer. If it’s a legitimate call, the person on the other end will leave a message, and you can pick up the phone if it’s someone you want to talk to. Most all of the scammers just hang up, or occasionally leave a canned message. Problem solved.

  6. In a description of the scam, it says “they may also start sending demands through the mail.” That’s what I was referring to.

    1. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Those are the options that “could” happen in this scam. It did not happen in this instance, at least not yet, so there is nothing to report.

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