Waldo County woman loses $15k to Facebook scam, law enforcement issues warning

Posted:  Saturday, September 22, 2018 - 10:00pm

BELFAST — An elderly Waldo County woman lost more than $15,000 after falling victim to a Facebook scammer, according to Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton.

The woman came to police after being notified by her bank that she was likely being scammed on her third trip to wire funds to those involved.

The scam begins when a scammer contacts a potential victim via Facebook. Scammers can contact potential victims by sending random friend requests or messages. They can also use accounts known to the victim by hacking into the account of an existing Facebook friend.

The woman in question was contacted by a friend on Facebook whom she had known in high school. The “friend” told the woman about a “fantastic empowerment program,” where she stood to gain more than $430,000. All she had to do was pay for UPS insurance for the funds to be delivered.

After their initial Facebook contact, all communication was done via text message.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, “went right down to the bank and made the first payment,” Trafton said.

The first amount transferred by the woman was more than $10,600, after which she was contacted again and told that she needed to transfer an additional $3,350, which was wired to an entirely different account with a different name than the first transfer.

It was on her third trip to the bank that employees told the woman she was likely being scammed.

Unfortunately, even with police involved, there is no chance of recovering the money the woman lost. Trafton explained that scams like this typically originate overseas, where U.S. law enforcement does not have jurisdiction.

Trafton said the best way for law enforcement to tackle the issue of scams is to alert the public and ensure people are educated about what sort of things should raise red flags that the communication is likely a scam.

The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office held a scamming conference in Unity in July where members of the public came to learn about different kinds of scams and what to be on the lookout for.

One red flag is any stranger that contacts you requesting you send money, although Trafton said even with friends this type of request should be scrutinized.

Trafton himself was on the receiving end of a Facebook scam attempt where a friend from decades ago contacted him. After making brief small talk, the friend said they had an amazing opportunity for Trafton to get money; fortunately, he recognized what was happening and ceased contact.

There are countless scams being perpetrated at any given moment, but another red flag people can be on the lookout for is assertions you’ve won money from an overseas sweepstakes or contest.

“There are scams out there, like, ‘you’ve won this sweepstakes from Jamaica and all you have to do is send us $5,000 to collect your winnings,’” Trafton said. “That is completely illegal,” he added, noting that it is not legal for American citizens to enter sweepstakes from other countries.

Trafton said almost all scammers will be in a rush to get things done, hurrying would-be victims along by telling them they must act now.

“Take your time, say [to the suspected scammer] let me just check on this [offer]... [the scammers will]  move on,” he said.

“The best rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true it is too good to be true. That’s what we [tell people] in our classes,” Trafton said.

For those not completely convinced that every single offer of free money is a scam, Trafton said protecting yourself can be as simple as calling a friend or law enforcement to verify the claims being made are realistic, accurate, or are a known scam.

Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com