MONFORT HEIGHTS, Ohio — Think you would never fall for a phone scam? Think again.
One bright, savvy, professional event planner is out more than $10,000 of her life savings after being conned by a fake Pay Pal agent.
We were at Leslie Flanigan's Monfort Heights, Ohio, home when the scammer made one of several calls to her cell phone.
"What are we trying to do here today?" she asked him, having dealt with him several times over the past two days.
"We need two more cards in order to release the money, Miss," we heard the caller tell her.
She says no....but it's too late.
Flanigan had already sent him numbers off a stack of $500 Target gift cards, believing she had been dealing with PayPal.
How the con works
It all began two days earlier, when she had a problem with a PayPal payment to a vendor, and tried to fix the issue.
"It was so official. They said, 'This is PayPal,'" she said of her first conversation with them.
But it turns out she had reached a phony PayPal when she Googled for their customer service number a few days ago to try to discuss a problem.
The fake PayPal rep told her that her account had been hacked.
"He told me there were 24 hackers attached to my PayPal account," Flanigan said.
But she says he promised he would help her.
To fix the compromised account, he convinced Flanigan to buy a $500 Target gift card at her local grocery store.
She would get the money right back, he said.
But then he told her that she needed to buy another Target gift card, and another, and then another.
With each purchase, he told her he was fixing an individual account breach, and that the money would all soon show up in her PayPal account.
"I bet I have 18 of them that I sent," Flanigan said.
It may be hard to believe, but the agent was so convincing that she read him the numbers off 18 $500 Target gift cards, for a total of $9,000 in Target cards, plus a couple of thousand more in eBay gift cards he told her to buy.
"I was in auto. I was in auto that whole time," she said. "I just kept doing it!"
We confront the scammer
So when he called again, we called him out.
"Hi there, my name is John Matarese," I said, explaining that I was a TV reporter and suspected he was scamming her.
I asked him to return Flanigan's money.
"Sir, who told you I am a scammer? I am helping her out," he told me.
I reponded bluntly. "You are not helping her, you are stealing money from her. What is your name?"
With that, however, he hung up, and our attempt to call the number back was fruitless, as no doubt he was calling from a disposable, or burner, number.
We are contacting Target and the FBI, and sharing with them all the individual gift card numbers, but are not hopeful the money can be found.
Sure, you might not take a call if someone said they were calling you from PayPal or another financial service.
But scammers are now putting their numbers onto Google listings, so that you call them first, and therefore believe they are the real thing.
Bottom line: Be careful Googling for customer service numbers of PayPal, Facebook, Apple, Venmo, Cash App or other services.
You may end up calling an impersonator, who while pretending to be helpful will instead try to clear out your bank account.
And remember: no legitimate company will ever ask you to buy gift cards and read them the numbers, so don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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