There are so many current telephone scams, and the goal of each is to separate us from our money.
The scammers are creative and relentless – and it’s only getting worse. Here are just a few examples from this Washington Post article:
Scammers target immigrant communities with urgent calls claiming ambiguous legal trouble.
Scammers pose as representatives of the Chinese embassy and contact U.S. metropolitan areas with large Chinese populations, trying to trick Chinese immigrants and students into revealing their credit card numbers.
Scammers pretend to be a representative from a bank, a debt collector or cable company who needs to discuss “an important business matter” such as debt collection and billing information.
Scammers mimic actual Internal Revenue Service (IRS) telephone numbers at assistance centers, tell victims they owe money to the government, and urge them to pay through a gift card or wire transfer.
Scammers pose as charitable organizations, preying on the generosity of Americans who want to help those affected by the natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
Scammers trick people into answering their calls with a scheme known as neighborhood spoofing, in which they manipulate caller ID information so that their actual phone number is masked. Instead, the calls appear to have been placed locally, and when we see a number that matches our own area code, we’re more likely to answer the call.
Scammers steal your money with Medicare scams, Social Security scams, concert and sports tickets scams.
But of all the telephone scams – and there are many more – I think the most heartbreaking is “romance scams.”
And I mean heartbreaking, literally.
Romance scams start through online dating websites, social media, email and telephone to make contact.
The victims are male and female, straight and gay, and of all ages:
They all have this in common:
Broken hearts and lost money:
The Internet abounds with their stories, so I’ll share a personal story instead.
My brother is someone who – like most of us – would have laughed if anyone had suggested he’d fall for a romance scam. “Not me,” he would have said. “Never!”
He’s a college graduate, has a great job, and he’d been around long enough to know that grocery shopping, housework, cooking, laundry and even ironing (yes!) don’t just happen. He’s a nice-looking man, he works out, and has a great sense of humor.
But – like many singles – he’d been through a long, dateless dry spell and decided to check out some dating sites. He met a woman a half-world away, and they seemed to click. Their conversations transitioned from chats to extended skype exchanges.
They both seemed smitten.
About two months in, she told him her mother was ill, then didn’t mention her again until a few conversations later. This time she said her mother was getting worse, and they couldn’t afford her mother’s medicine.
My brother has a big, compassionate heart, and he sent her a few hundred dollars.
Then she claimed she was also sick, and she didn’t get paid if she didn’t work, and…
Her requests escalated from there.
When we siblings suggested that he was being scammed, he didn’t believe it for a minute. This lady was different. She wouldn’t do that. She genuinely cared for him and he wanted to help her.
Especially since she’d told him she loved him, not once, but several times.
And she’d promised to pay the money back, all of it.
When my brother finally accepted that she was not going to pay him back, he ended the relationship. She continued posting on Facebook how much she loved him until he cut that off, as well.
He was sadder and poorer, but wiser.
Like my brother – like most of us – I, too, believed I could never be scammed. Not by that phony IRS thing, or the bank scammers, or that neighborhood spoofing stuff, none of it.
Now, here’s what I believe:
Update: While I was writing this post…
My phone rang.
When I don’t recognize the caller’s name or number, I don’t answer, so he left this message:
“Laura, my name is Tim Presley. I’m contacting you in regards to a case that is in the process of being filed through San Diego County. The case is not being filed against you, it is being filed against a Christina (unintelligible). I’ve been instructed to make you aware that your name and address is listed as the most likely location for her. At this point (name? unintelligible) still has the legal right to contact the Proceedings Office filing the case to update her information. However, once this case is filed, that will no longer be an option. The phone number to that legal department is gonna be 855-337-4536. When she calls, she’ll provide her case number 605233. This is considered legal notification by telephone and Christina will be located at your residence unless I am (unintelligible) otherwise.”
I don’t know anyone named “Christina.”
I didn’t call the number.
But the words “case,” “being filed,” “San Diego County” and “legal” got my attention. So did the information that “Christina” was listing my home as “the most likely location for her.”
This sounded like it might – might – be on the level.
So I went on the website for the San Diego County Superior Court and searched for “case number 605233.”
And there it was – a legitimate court case number.
The name on the case wasn’t Christina, and it was filed back in 1988, but I thought it was worth checking, so I called Superior Court.
I spoke with a very nice woman and explained why I was calling – that I suspected a scammer. She looked up the case with the number and told me that “The entire case was dismissed.” She checked for my name and said it wasn’t associated with the case.
I asked how the scammer could have gotten an actual Super Court case number, and she suggested that they might have “made up the case number and got lucky.”
I doubt it.
- The scammer had my first name, telephone number, and knew I live in San Diego County.
- The area code of the number he called from matched mine.
- He identified himself, making himself sound legitimate.
- This was a person, not a recording, well-spoken, and he had no accent.
- He used attention-getting words.
- His tone was urgent and somewhat threatening – “will no longer be an option.”
- He was obviously reading from a script – no stumbling over words, no hesitations.
How did the scammers get an actual Superior Court case number?
I was still pondering that the next day, when I heard from “Tim Presley” again. This time there was more urgency in his voice, and his message was definitely more threatening:
“Laura, this is Tim Presley contacting you once again in regards to a case being filed in the San Diego County. I reached out to you several times yesterday and all correspondence have been ignored. At this point they are intending on proceeding with the order of location for Christina (unintelligible) at your residence. Understand that she still has the legal right to contact the office filing the case. I’ll provide that information to that office once again, just so there’s no way for you, or her, to say you had no prior knowledge of this matter. That phone number’s gonna be 855-337-4536. Her case number is 605233. This is considered a final legal notification by telephone, and Christina (unintelligible) will be located at your residence unless I am (unintelligible) otherwise.”
He lied when he said he’d “reached out” to me “several times yesterday.”
Gosh, a lying scammer.
I can promise you that this recent scammer victim also believed it could never happen to her.
We all know better — until we don’t: