A phone scam

The automated caller informed me that there had been suspicious activity on my bank account:  “Press 1 to be connected to a federal agent.”

There was nothing right about it from the beginning.  Because I know that so many people have been victimized, I decided to learn what I could about the experience.  I pressed 1.    

Speaking in heavily accented English, a female “agent” identified herself as “Gracie Williams” and offered a “federal badge number”.  She said: “You are under suspicion for narcotics money laundering.  There were several transfers from your accounts to Colombia, totaling almost $200,000 over the past few days. 

“The enforcement arm of the Federal Reserve Bank, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Treasury Department, and the Attorney General are all working together in a joint investigation, and we may need to come to your house in 45 minutes to arrest you unless you cooperate fully. 

“You are speaking on a recorded line and all of the federal agencies are listening.  It is very important that you be truthful.  It is also very important that you speak to no one about this investigation.”  

Under questioning, I gave the “agent” a false name, date of birth, nearby zip code, and last four of social security.   

She purported to look the information up and reported that 18 bank accounts had recently been opened in the false name.   She named several major banks.  She detailed specific transfers to Colombia and asked me if I was certain that I knew nothing about them.  “Have you ever been to Colombia?  Do you know anyone in Colombia?  Are you sure?” 

She warned me of the gravity of the situation and warned me to speak to no one about it.  I found myself afraid even though I knew it was all a sham. 

I played along through progressively more detailed interrogations by several other “agents.”  I realized that I was being vetted.   

Finally, having satisfied themselves that I had money in the bank, was alone, and was trusting enough to fall for their story, they told me that regrettably, my bank accounts had to be frozen.  

I protested my innocence.  They told me that another agent would call me back. 

Officer “Marcus McCoy” called back.   He reassured me that they trusted me and appreciated my cooperation. I was a good person.  He would help me.   

Then he went in for the kill.  To protect my funds, my funds needed to be transferred to a “safety locker.”  He would stay on the line with me while I travelled to the bank and got a cashier’s check for $205,579.  They left me something to get by on – that amount was only 80% of what I had told them I had. 

“We will be watching on the bank video cameras to make sure the criminal is not following you.  Do not speak to the teller about why you need the check.  You have not spoken to anyone about this, correct?” 

I went through the motions of getting into my car and going to the bank in a way that was sufficiently convincing that he then gave me an actual person’s name and physical address to mail the check to.  Still under his direction on the phone, I went to the UPS store and overnighted an envelope (with no check) to that person.  

The next morning “Agent McCoy” called and started to explain that I was in serious trouble for sending an empty envelope.  At that point, I berated him and ended the game. 

I thought again and again about how hurtful their game could be to vulnerable people.  They implied that they knew my every move and sought to isolate me from family or friends who might talk me out of my folly.  Their legal threats were all ridiculous, but they made the threats so forcefully that I found my heart pounding.  

Belmont law enforcement was very responsive, but they didn’t get much cooperation from Florida law enforcement in following up at the physical address that I sent the letter to.  There is so much of this going on that law enforcement’s ability to help is limited.   

By sharing stories, we may help others avoid the traps.

Energy bill scams. A constituent from Watertown shared a story about people going door to door asking to see energy bills. This is a known issue, although not always an outright scam. More hear on the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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84 Comments

  1. Will – that’s hilarious.
    If anyone else is interested in Scam Baiting , there’s a page here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scam_baiting
    with precautions and instructions. Remember — never give them anything “real”!
    If you just want to live vicariously, do a search on Youtube for “Scam Baiting”.
    I used to love responding to the “your computer has a virus” calls…. “I now have a picture of Donald Trump on my monitor. Do you think it’s a parity error?” Eventually they get tired of being played and move on. I actually managed to get one phone number to block me I was so annoying!

    If you want to go “semi pro”, check out https://www.419eater.com/

    The community scams the 419 (Nigerian Princes) Scammers. There are some hilarious photos at https://www.419eater.com/html/trophy_room.htm
    (The Trophy room).

    Seriously, Emails and Phone scams are so 2019….I get at least one scam text per day. My Netflix account has been compromised. There’s a ups/fedex package for me….I can get $550 from the DMV because of my good driving record! Apple has a free iPhone for me…4 viruses have been detected…. Hulu is giving everyone a free 1 year subscription in honor of the Pandemic…it’s endless….

    Everyone – don’t give Scammers a chance, become educated….Help your ‘rents and kids to understand the nature of online scams…

  2. Will, Thank you for sharing your scary story! Wow, You were brave to follow thru as you did. How I wish the police could catch scammers like this. Maybe you could share your story with the media & they could post in the newspapers & on the evening tv news. So important for people who especially live alone and are so vulnerable. Stay well and safe! Sincerely yours- S. DeCarlo

  3. Hi Will,
    What a bad experience.
    One time after getting a creepy call like that I called the Secretary of State to report it. They said that it is almost impossible to track such calls and there is not much that can be done about it.

  4. A couple of years ago I attended an information security conference where I heard a presentation by an FBI agent who responds to computer crimes and scams. He presented statistics showing that his office received over 18,000 complaints that year. I raised my hand and asked how many agents were assigned to investigate these complaints – it was under 20. The major legislative response to computer crimes thus far has been to regulate and fine organizations that fall victim to them. What’s needed instead is more law enforcement and diplomatic resources (because in many cases the cyber criminals are operating outside of the US) to go after the actual criminals.

  5. Here’s what I do: While I rely on NoMoRobo (https://www.nomorobo.com/) to screen calls, a bunch still get through (many from Belmont numbers!) but my outgoing message takes care of almost all of them: “If you are a friend, press 1. If you are a relative, 2. Unless you are calling from prison, in which case 3. If you are begging, 4. All others, please remain on the line while your call is transferred to the FBI.” So many callers hang up after number 3 it isn’t funny.

  6. I think I am right on this. If one looks at the record of US Attorneys or State AGs there are very few successful prosecutions. This is about stealing not about fraud per se. I have never seen an announcement of fed-state task force on this crime. Scamming, fraud, intimidation have been used forever to steal. Frankly I don’t think our law enforcement agencies consider these crimes more than a minor irritant.

  7. This happened to my father in Florida about 18 months ago, early in his decline. It was one of the first clear indications he was slipping. A woman called and told him his granddaughter had been in a car accident and was hurt and needs his help. She got on the phone (sounding nothing like my daughters obviously but claimed it was because she had facial injuries) It went on from there and she emphasized not to tell anyone. They got him to go to his bank (Wells Fargo) withdraw “half” the needed amount ($4500) in cash and FedEx it to an address in South Carolina. When received the next day they would call back and confirm receipt and ask fir the other half. My father, who had trouble walking bc of a busted hip, followed all their instructions perfectly.
    I forget how we found out but we did and sent the police to his house to get his statement the next day…while there the scammers actually called back. The cop took the phone and yelled at them (!)…but basically told us there’s nothing they can do. They use burner phones and safe house addresses and know how to evade detection. The best defense is to warn your older loved ones not to fall for it. Also, in talking to other ppl, I’ve heard some banks have questioned these cash withdrawals of elderly ppl and successfully intervened to stop the scam. Good for them. Wells Fargo did not. There should be something in place to confirm it’s legit since this has become so nauseatingly common. I won’t hold my breath for Governor DeSantis to propose it.

  8. i got hit for $900 by “apple”. on christmas eve, while my family was participating in a zoom call. it started with a text saying that i had signed up for a dating app for $400. If i didnt, i should call this # immediately. I called and spent a hour moving $ on to Apple gift cards. i was so distracted by the family zoom call that i didnt question anything!
    At first i felt so embarassed that i had been taken, I didnt even think to report it
    Ultimately the Citizens Bank refunded my $ (thank God). watertown police were helpful but helpless.

  9. I’ve always wondered what one of these looked like followed through. Thanks for posting.
    I get 3-5 of these calls a week, both on my cell and my corporate office phone. Most are very obviously scams, some are quite convincing even for someone savvy enough to know better. At work, I get calls from people pretending to be from one of our vendors and they’re using the pandemic as reasons that they’re no longer on terms/require cash or credit card payment/etc. We have to frequently remind staff to NEVER give information in these cases and to pass along to accounting to reach out directly to our vendor reps. I imagine small businesses would be very vulnerable to this type of scam.
    Add those to the VERY legitimate looking email phishing scams out there and it’s amazing to me that there isn’t a stronger crackdown on these things.
    Finally, not to belabor the point, but in my hometown in rural northern NY, a 14 year old boy recently committed suicide due to being blackmailed via a text scam like this. Someone had convinced him to text sensitive pictures and then said they would send them to everyone he knew unless he paid them several thousand dollars. The poor child chose suicide. This is a very real, very serious threat both financially and emotionally. I hope more steps can be taken to put an end to this type of crime.

  10. Great story Will.. I remember many years ago there was a group that claimed to be the Belmont Police Association ( something like that) and ask for a donations to support the police. They said to put it on the front door and they would send someone to pick the envelop up.. we fell for it a couple of years – then the real Belmont Police exposed the scam.. – today I get calls from the policemen’s association asking for a donation— actually in Dartmouth — I hang up but is that a scam too??
    Thanks Will

  11. Scammers say they are charitable police organizations or breast cancer organizations.
    They ask “May I speak to the lady of the house”?

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