Many of us believe we would never fall for a phone scam. That's something grandma or grandpa might trip into.
But one young Cincinnati woman just lost hundreds of dollars to a slick phone scam, and now wants to warn others about how easily you can be fooled.
Mary Kulik was heading home from her job as a payroll clerk the other day, when her cell phone rang.
"The caller said they were calling from the Social Security Administration office," she said.
The caller said something very similar to this script (which is offered by the Social Security Administration in a Public Service announcement): "The reason for this call is to inform you your card has been suspended for reasons of suspicious activity."
In her case, the caller told Kulik they found "32 bank accounts opened with my Social Security number that involved fraud."
Scared, she hung up, which is what you should do if you receive a threatening call.
Scammers make second call to seal the deal
But the phone rang again, with her Caller ID showing the Cheviot, Ohio police department. With local police on the Caller ID, she believed it was the real thing.
She says an officer started "screaming at me that I broke the law, I had a warranty out for my arrest, and they were going to arrest me unless I could prove to them that I did not open these accounts."
He said to do that, she needed to drive to Best Buy, and purchase gift cards with her debit card, to prove she had an active bank account.
"He said just go inside, get two gift cards for $500 each, and come back outside and let me know."
The officer on the phone originally told Kulik that police would meet her in the Best Buy parking lot of help her out. But for some reason, they couldn't make it, so he told her to confirm her identity to him via the phone and prove her innocence.
"You need to prove you are innocent right now or we are going to send you to jail," he told the very frightened Kulik.
What caller told her to do
The officer on the phone said if her bank cleared the gift card sale, then she was off the hook. It doesn't make sense to her now, but in her moment of panic, anything to make this nightmare stop was worth trying, she said.
So, following instructions, she read him the card numbers, and you can probably guess the rest.
It was all a scam. And they were able to get $1,000 from her, in the form of Best Buy gift cards that she says were immediately cashed in online.
Now, she wants others to know about her experience, as embarrassing as it is to recount publicly. "If you get a call about your Social Security card," she says, "just hang up. No matter what they say, just hang up."
We are reaching out to Best Buy to see if there is anything they can do, but typically when gift card money is gone it is gone.
Remember: no agency will ever call you threatening immediate arrest. And they will never, ever ask for money over the phone.
That way you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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