Calling Back a Scammer

A viewer called and was frustrated that scammers were targeting her mother. So I asked if I could call them back for her. She agreed and I managed to waste at 20 minutes of “David’s” time, which was 20 minutes he wasn’t able to scam someone else.

The man, who identified himself as David, also said she had won a brand new 2020 Lexus! 

It all sounds great and it would be. If it were even remotely true. 

It was scam.

One of the many dead giveaways? 

“In order to do that, they have to pay the taxes now and the company will pay them, but we need to pay one percent of them,” Shanon told me on Thursday. 

The FTC has a warning for a scam just like this on their website that is simplified as “Anyone who says, ‘You’ve won. Now pay us,’ is always a scammer. Period.

Shanon thankfully knew that and didn’t fall for it. She did, however, play along and was told to pay the one percent tax of the $2.5 million and brand new Lexus (she specifically requested seafoam green), she would need to go get two OneVanilla prepaid Visa cards, load them with $450 each and then call him back with the codes on the cards. 

Nevermind that $900 isn’t even remotely close to one percent of $2.5 million, or the fact that the person never even really specifically asked who they were talking to (eventually, it was said that they were looking for Shanon’s mother), the Federal Trade Commission specifically identifies this as a scam on their website saying, “Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee to get your prize. That includes paying ‘taxes,’ ‘shipping and handling charges,’ or ‘processing fees.’ There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.”

Shanon didn’t have plans to call “David” back, but I asked if I could. 

“Yes, you have my permission to do so,” she chuckled. “And mess with him all you want.” 

So I called him on the number he left for Shanon from Stateline, Idaho. The number was a Las Vegas area code, however, the FTC also recommends not trusting your caller ID. “David” told me he was actually based in New York.

“Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID,” the FTC says. “They might use an official-sounding name like Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest.”

A man identifying himself as Daniel answered the phone.

I quickly found out that theatrics plays a bit of a role in this ruse as “Daniel” quickly pretended to go and fetch David while letting me listen. 

Again, I didn’t give the man any specifics on who I was calling about or where I was located, but he didn’t seem to care. I simply told him I was calling on behalf of my grandma and he supposedly knew exactly who I was talking about. 

“She won $2.5 million?” I said excitedly. 

After a brief pause: “Oh, yes! We contacted her yesterday.” 

Again, no specific names have been exchanged. He hasn’t even asked for my name at this point. 

At first, “David” didn’t seem interested in helping me right away. He did, however, seem to put the pressure on by saying he needed the paperwork processed immediately or they would have to give the “prize” to the second place winner. 

He seemed dismissive and told me he’d call me later, but when I informed him that I had the money on the cards and was ready to complete the process, he suddenly was interested in making the deal happen right away. 

All while assuring me, this wasn’t a scam. 

“You guys are legit, right?” I asked him. 

“Listen to me, sir,” he replied sternly. “What I’m telling you right now is this is legitimate because this call that we’re on right now is being recorded and being monitored.”

“By whom,” I inquired. 

“By the FBI,” he confidently said. “This is legitimate. 100 percent legitimate.” 

Reassured that the FBI had my back (*sarcasm, folks), I chatted up David a bit before getting to the numbers on those cards he wanted. 

“We really need this money, you know?” I said before launching into a sob story. “No one told us life was gonna be this way. My job’s a joke, I’m broke, my love life is D.O.A. I feel like I’m stuck in second gear.” 

He didn’t appear to be a Friends fan. 

I even asked if he personally would be there to deliver the prize to my grandma and when he said he would, I made plans for a fun afternoon with David the money guy.

“Do you think after you drop off the money, like after we get that all taken care of, do you want to like go get some lunch or laser tag or something?” I eagerly asked. 

“Get some lunch or something?” he replied a little confused. 

“Yeah, I’ll have a bunch of money, so I’ll take you to laser tag!” I said. 

“Yes, of course! We always do that!” he said. 

But as excited as he sounded for some laser tag, he really just wanted the numbers on my imaginary gift cards, so I gave them to him. Rattling off the first random numbers that popped in my head. 

“7,19, 4312” I told him as he repeated them back. “This number looks like, do you remember when Prince turned himself into a symbol? It looks like that… oh, it’s a four. This one looks like a banana. Oh, that’s a one” 

He initially told me the gift cards would have 16 numbers on them. I gave him 23, and one Prince symbol.

After a bit of a pause, “That’s way more than 16 digits, sir,” David said with a hint of frustration. 

It was time to come clean with him. 

“Hey David can I be honest with you for a second? I feel like you’re my friend and we have a level of honesty,” I began before telling him what really happened to my imaginary cards.

“I had the cards. I got them yesterday and then on my way home a guy stopped me and offered me magic beans for them and I traded them straight up. Now I planted the beans and nothing has happened, but I will give you the beans when you guys come give me my money.”

He didn’t seem interested in that trade. 

“So you’re telling me that you do not have the cards, right?” he said with a definite level of frustration in his voice after nearly 15 minutes of this. 

“I will give you those beans. I have three pots, they all have magic beans in them and I will give them to you. That’s a fair trade,” I assured him. 

“David” was done talking. 

“Ok sir, I have a delivery I have to get to in California,” he said after an audible sigh. “So whenever you get the card, let me know because this seems like you’re playing a game.” 

Sensing he was done, I asked him the question I had been putting off. 

“David, I want to work with you here, but I also want to know why you’re scamming people? Like, how good do you feel about that? You’re scamming old people,” I said just right before he hung up. 

David did call back about 10 minutes later. He still tried to convince me that it wasn’t a scam and he was going to “publish the winning on CNN” to prove it was real. 

A little more serious this time, I grilled him on why he was scamming people out of their hard-earned money. I told him legitimate prize winners don’t pay taxes in gift cards. I even referenced the same FTC article I hyperlinked above and told him what he was doing was a well-known scam. 

He countered all of that by saying he and his company were actually the ones putting out that information in an effort to make people aware of the scam, but they certainly were not the scammers. They were the good guys. 

“David” again mentioned the winnings (for the person who hadn’t even been named in our conversation and he still didn’t know my name) would be out in the news soon. 

I told him I was a reporter. 

“You’re a reporter?” he sighed. 

“Yes, sir” I said. 

He hung up. 

In total, I kept him occupied for around 20 minutes, which hopefully was 20 minutes he couldn’t be out scamming someone. 

As fun as all of that was for my Friday morning, this is a very serious issue and one you and your family need to be on the lookout for because people are getting money stolen from them every day. 

A Detroit woman back in January scammed of $5,000

A 91-year-old woman in Missouri recently lost $250,000 to scammers claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House. Publishers Clearing House even has a fraud warning on their website

And just last month, a Spokane County woman was duped out of more than $100K. That scam call involved someone claiming to be from a security company. 

The bottom line is, if someone calls and says “you’ve won a prize, but first you need to pay me”, it’s a scam. 

Tips to consider from the FTC

  • Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee to get your prize. That includes paying “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges,” or “processing fees.” There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.
  • Don’t send money transfers or gift cards, or give personal information. Sending money transfers or gift cards (or providing the gift card numbers) is like sending cash: once the money’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for sending money by mail or using a money order.
  • Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. They might use an official-sounding name like Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest.

If you receive a scam call, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office said to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 or online here