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'Innocent person victimized': Local couple loses money to scam that's getting worse

Local couple falls for fake FBI scam and loses big money
Posted at 3:20 PM, Jun 27, 2024

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — An elderly couple from Independence recently got a message on their computer screen, and what happened next is something that’s hitting consumers much more these days — imposter scams.

“He said there were some shady transactions,” said Mike Hanlon about how the message began on his wife’s computer. The pop-up claimed they were from the FBI, and they supposedly had proof the Hanlons were on the dark web. “With our signatures…some trace back to our PC,” recalled Hanlon.

It wasn’t true, but there was a phone number the supposed FBI told her to call. When she did, they said she had to buy three Target gift cards from nearby CVS and Walgreens stores totaling $1500, all to clear their name.

We checked those stores. They do have written warnings about scams in the gift card sections, but the Hanlons lost money anyway. “I felt bad that an innocent person would be victimized like that,” said Hanlon.

The scammers used a typical tactic. They told Hanlon’s wife to keep them on the line while she was going in and out of the stores. They told her not to talk to anyone while she was making her purchases. “He got the numbers from the back of the cards, and before we could do anything about it, he emptied those,” explained Hanlon.

“On a personal level, it really just makes me angry,” said Federal Trade Commission Attorney Fil de Banate from the Cleveland FTC Office. One reason he is upset is because last year alone consumers lost $1 billion to this kind of scheme. “That amount is three times of what was reported to us in 2020,” said de Banate. “So, there is a huge boom in imposter scams.”

Back in April of this year, the FTC established a new rule that gives them more tools to fight imposters. “We can go to federal court and sue these scammers and make sure we get the money that they stole from consumers,” said de Banate.

He also said to keep in mind that true government agents won’t contact you by computer message, text, or social media, and they won’t ask you to pay by gift card, money transfer or cryptocurrency. “And as part of that, the government will never pressure you into paying right now, or else you’re going to be in trouble,” he told us.

He also emphasized if you see scams happening even if you haven’t lost money, make sure to report them to the FTC. It compiles all that information which could help lead them to catching the crooks responsible. You can do an online scam report or call 877-FTC-HELP.

Hanlon said he wanted to warn you to be careful. “It’s getting difficult for an honest person to negotiate in today’s financial world,” he told us.

The Hanlons contacted Target about their case. We, too, reached out. Target said it is looking into the Hanlons’ gift card issue.

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