(KTVI) - Chris Thetford from the St. Louis Better Business Bureau explained to Elliot Weiler a scam that fooled a local couple.
Callers posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent and an immigration official from India used coercion and threats to steal more than $10,000 from a West St. Louis County couple, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
BBB says the scam is almost identical to recent cases in California and New Jersey where scammers took a total of $20,000 from two other victims. In all three cases, fake IRS agents appeared to target persons from India, telling them they owe back taxes and intimidating them into loading money onto Green Dot MoneyPak cards. The victims then relayed the cards’ access codes to the thieves, allowing them to strip the cash from the accounts.
“I was very scared; he was controlling everything,” said the St. Louis County woman. She said the thieves instructed her to withdraw more than $12,000 from the couple’s bank accounts and then load $10,890 of that onto the Green Dot cards. She said she purchased the cards from several retail stores in her neighborhood over a period of several hours.
While the couple is originally from India, both are American citizens.
The woman said the initial caller, who identified himself as Ron Davis, kept her on her cell phone almost continuously from about 10 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. on Sept. 26. He told her repeatedly thatpolice would come to her home to arrest her and take her to jail if she did not follow his instructions.
The woman’s husband arrived home from work just in time to stop his wife from transferring still more money to the thieves. He described his wife as “overcome by fear. She was not in a normal state of mind.”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the case is typical of phone schemes that thieves have employed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from St. Louis area residents. Police reported last month that a Chesterfield, Mo., grandmother lost $250,000 in a so-called “grandparent scam” when callers identifying themselves as her grandson and Peruvian officials demanded money to free the grandson from a South American jail.
“Please, please educate your family members, your friends and your neighbors about these scams,” Corey said. “Anytime anyone calls and asks you to send cash by wire transfer or a Green Dot MoneyPak card, hang up the phone and contact authorities. It’s virtually guaranteed that they are trying to steal your money.”
The St. Louis County woman said the thief initially called her home phone, claiming to represent the IRS. He said she owed back taxes and demanded her cell phone number. After phoning her on her cell, he told her that police would arrest her unless she immediately went to her bank and withdrew $2,000 to purchase Green Dot cards.
In the hours that followed, he demanded that she go to the bank several more times and purchase several additional Green Dot cards. As soon as she purchased and loaded the cards with cash, he would demand the access codes and empty the cards.
At one point, he told her he was setting up a three-way call with an Indian immigration official. The woman said that person demanded still more money to pay off what he described as an overdue “alien tax.” If she did not pay the money, her family would be deported, he told her.
A clerk at one of the stores hinted to the woman that she might be the victim of a scam, but the thief told her to tell the clerk that she was purchasing the Green Dot cards to send money to her son.
The couple reported the theft to St. Louis County police, who told them the chance of recovering their money was remote.
The husband said the ordeal has been devastating for his family. He said he believes that untraceable methods of transferring cash should be illegal.
BBB offers the following tips to anyone contacted by a stranger demanding money:
- If the caller claims to represent law enforcement or a government agency, get the person’s name and affiliation and tell them you will call back. Look up the phone number for the agency and use that number to contact authorities. The agency will be able to tell you if the call is legitimate.
- Do not give a caller any personal information, including banking or Social Security numbers.
- If the call is from a debt collector, ask the caller to provide proof of the debt by mail. If the caller refuses, hang up.
- Never transfer money to a stranger by wire transfers such as Western Union or MoneyGram or by using preloaded money cards such as Green Dot MoneyPaks. Such payments can be virtually impossible to trace.
- If a caller threatens you in any way, contact police.
- If you are unsure about whether a call is legitimate, contact BBB, police or your attorney general’s office.
To watch a BBB video on the dangers of wiring money to strangers, go to http://youtu.be/8uXaiEX04B0.