Latest scam actually pays its victims
In the span of two weeks, two Marion residents found themselves $300 and $500 richer after a phone scam asked them to transfer money.
Both scam victims were asked over the phone to buy a certain amount of either gift cards or BitCoin, then give the gift card codes or BitCoin keys, supposedly so the money could be put to charities.
This follows most “money mule” schemes, where money is shifted into a digital format to obscure the fact that it was obtained illegally. An increase in frequency of “money mule” schemes led to the FBI putting out a bulletin in 2020 to warn about them.
Unlike most scams, the scammers paid the victims the promised $300 and $500 for transferring $3,000 and $5,000 into gift cards and BitCoin.
“That was the first time we’d ever come across anybody receiving money from any person in their account,” Marion police chief Clinton Jeffrey said.
One of the victims also was half the age of most scam targets. The gift card scam victim was a woman in her 80s and was reported to officials by Peabody Dollar Tree after they noticed her buying a suspicious amount of gift cards. The BitCoin victim was in his or her 40s and self-reported after the scam had occurred.
“Usually, we don’t get that many people that age,” Jeffrey said. “They either don’t recognize it or know enough about technology to not fall for it.”
The victims did not share any bank account information with the scammers, so how the scammers accessed the victims’ accounts to transfer money and pay them is unknown.
Jeffrey suggested it may have been done with a spoof Google account or by hacking, and also suspected the scammers would use this information to drain the bank accounts later.
“We probably won’t be able to catch the scammers,” he said. “We don’t have enough resources or the knowledge of how all that stuff works to catch them. It’s probably overseas, because a lot of the text messages people were receiving were from someone with obviously limited English or who was using a translator of some kind. And the FBI deals with larger amounts, otherwise their resources would be stretched too much: they wouldn’t bother with just $3,000 or $5,000 dollars.”
In the aftermath, both victims have blocked the spam numbers and changed their bank account details.
“This sounds bad, but we were impressed by the scam,” Jeffrey said. “It sounds like someone has done some thinking about how to do this and we were in awe of how much money could be taken.”
Last modified Jan. 20, 2022