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Scammed out of $100,000: How police are combating a community-wide issue

Posted at 9:28 PM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-16 09:09:50-05

FOX CROSSING — A Fox Crossing woman's family reached out to local law enforcement last week after discovering she was in a months-long gift card scam that cost her $14,000. Police said the scammers got her to buy gift cards and send the codes through her phone.

However, this isn't the first time.

“In the start, it was around $58,000, and now, to date, it was over $100,000 that she has sent," the victim's son said.

The victim, whose family asks to remain anonymous, initially fell for a fake Publisher's Clearing House scam back in 2017. She sent nearly her life savings to scammers for the promise of millions and a new car.

Her son says due to her dementia, she has been consistently targeted throughout the years, one scam including someone pretending to be her grandson needing bail and the most recent gift card one that the Fox Crossing Police Department is now aware of.

"It's amazing how they evolve," Daniel Wiechman, Fox Crossing Police Department Community Liaison Officer, said. "If one works for a short period of time and stops working, something else comes up."

Wiechman said gift card, email and phone scams are common and scammers prey off of anyone, especially people they believe are more vulnerable.

Cliff Robb, a consumer science professor and expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said younger people tend to be less experienced and older people might face cognitive decline, so this leaves a wide net of targets for scammers, and they use many methods.

"I think it's really important for consumers to recognize that sometimes it's not always about an immediate plea for money," Robb said. "Sometimes, the intention of the scam is just to get access to more data from you."

In the victim's particular gift card case, Wiechman said scammers were calling with spoofed numbers, which can look like local area codes but are often international callers. He suggests being wary of answering any numbers you don't recognize.

Though phone scams are still plenty, Robb said email scams are becoming more common and effective. As a result, he said it's important to check an email's return address, never click embedded links and always verify through an organization's website if they really sent an email.

Whether you've come across a scam or are a scam victim yourself, Wiechman emphasized that there's no shame in reporting it.

“It’s very important to report, no matter the dollar value or even if the attempt was failed," Wiechman said. "At least that way, we have an idea of what’s trending. We can keep a list or report these situations to our credit unions.”

For the victim's family, they are currently receiving help through the Aging and Disability Resource Center and recovering the debt.

“It tears up households. It tears up families," the victim's son said. "They just pry on weakness, but we’re not weak. We’re going to fight back and do what we can to save our family members.”

In an effort to educate people and continue to combat scams, Wiechman said he works with a team of other law enforcement members and a credit union as a part of the "Fraud Squad."

He encourages anyone looking for advice, tools and resources on scams to visit Fraud Squad.