Belfast Police are cautioning people to be careful with what information they share over the internet after one elderly Waldo County woman lost over $26,000 in less than a year.
Belfast Police Sergeant Detective Matthew Cook said the woman was approached by one of her Facebook friends on the website’s messenger app, who told the woman that she had recently gotten a grant that could see the woman receive $100,000. The scammer sent a picture of a pallet of cash, telling her that the “friend” would send it to her if she paid the taxes.
As for why she would have been chosen as the recipient, Cook said the woman has a history of public service, and that was given as a reason she had been chosen.
A second Facebook account claiming to be in charge of the grant foundation in question was also created and someone operating the account was also in contact with the woman throughout the scam, assuring her of its legitimacy.
The woman was reportedly instructed to lie when she went to her local bank to send wire transfers, telling bank tellers that the funds were going to her daughter. In addition to wire transfers, the woman bought dozens of gift cards, with the amounts often in the multiple thousands. Rather than sending the gift cards physically, the “friend” instead had the woman take pictures of both sides of the cards to send over messenger. This was also done with a credit card in her name.
Cook said that eventually, the woman became concerned, and in an effort to assuage that concern, the “friend” sent her $5,000, to “invest on her behalf,” Cook said.
At some point the manager of the woman’s bank became suspicious after noticing the wire transfers and amount of gift cards being purchased and asked her what was going on, leading her to confess the situation to the manager, who then alerted Belfast Police.
According to Cook, the woman, who lives on a fixed income, lost $26,300 to the scammer.
Cook said he actually “talked” to the scammer on the woman’s messenger account, and that it appeared the scammer was either using a speech translator or spoke broken English. He said that although there are times police are able to act in these situations, often the scammers are in another country, meaning nothing can be done.
“Once the money is wired, it’s gone. There’s no retrieving it,” Cook said.
“When something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he added, saying he would encourage anyone who receives a suspicious message from a “friend” to actually reach out to that friend to ask them about the message. It is common for scammers to use someone’s friend list to create a spoof account and make contact posing as the friend. While most may catch such a deception, many others fail to realize they’re being conned until they’ve already lost a substantial amount of money.
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org