BBB News Alert – Tearful Consumers Lose Thousands to Old Scams

“My grandson called me from Mexico. He was in a jail and needed money. He was counting on me to help and begged me not to call his parents…so I sent him money. Then I found out he was never in Mexico. I feel so foolish. I haven’t told anyone.”

This was what our Nancy H. learned when she did a speech to a senior citizens group. BBB folks speak to numerous senior centers, church groups and service clubs. We hear stories like this, despite the fact that BBB does MULTIPLE warnings on “The Grandma Scam” on TV, radio and in the newspapers.

Oh. How much money did the lady send to her grandson in Mexico? $ 60,000! (Yes, $60,000!)

Our Courtney was on the phone to a woman who was almost hysterical. She was crying and her daughter – in the background – was also shouting angrily at her.

“What can I do? I have no money! The bank has taken $ 3,000 from my checking account and I have nothing left!”

Then she told her story. “I got a letter from Publishers Clearing House that I had won the sweepstakes. With it was a check for $7,000 that I needed to use to pay the taxes on my winnings. They told me to take the check to the bank and deposit it, then next day withdraw $6,000 and send it to them certified mail. I could keep the extra $1,000 as a part of my prize. So I did as they said and withdrew the $6,000 (cash) and sent it Priority Mail to their address in Queens, New York. But now the bank has called me and told me the check was counterfeit! I have to pay them back the whole $7,000! What can I do?”

Courtney immediately asked if they had picked up the money yet, hoping that perhaps the letter could be intercepted…but it had already been delivered yesterday. She explained that Mom could report the scam to the post office and the bank as well as make a police report…but it appeared the money was lost and she would be required to repay the bank. The caller’s daughter was screaming at her mother. “Mom, how could you be so stupid! Don’t you see all the warnings about this scam?” Mom had to confess that she had no idea that this was going on. Courtney gently restated BBB advice for many years; never pay money in advance to “claim a prize.”

“I need to speak to your supervisor,” said the gentleman at the BBB office window. Our Tene asked him what it was concerning.

“I received a very disturbing phone call from the IRS. They said that a warrant was being issued for my arrest for failure to pay back taxes. I need to let BBB know that this is a scam!”

Tene explained that the IRS Robocall Scam was the largest racket in North America for the past three years. We have done numerous alerts and warnings about it and would be doing more after the first of the year when tax season starts.

He was relieved. “I haven’t seen your warnings, but I knew it had to be a scam. The IRS doesn’t call when a taxpayer owes money. They send a letter.” He was exactly right…and thankfully too smart to be cheated even when the crooks tried to use their scare tactics on him.

“We’re calling from the Edison. Your company hasn’t paid its bill and we have a truck on the way to your location to shut off your power.” The local restaurant owner (who prefers to remain anonymous) was shocked. “You can’t shut off my power! We’re just getting ready for the dinner crowd!” “Too bad,” said the caller. “If you want to stop the shutoff, you need to go to the drugstore and buy $760 of gift cards, then call me back and give me the numbers on the backs of the cards so we can get the gift card values.”

The restaurant owner was ready to run to the drugstore when he suddenly realized that the story didn’t make any sense. He knew he had paid his power bill…and why would Edison want gift cards? He called Edison instead, and they assured him that his account was current – and that the call he had received was a scam. (We have an article on this in the October BBB News).

Dick Eppstein, BBB