Stopping Scammers: Eyewitness News tests 'fake scam' on seniors

Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 10:48 PM CDT
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Most of us would like to think we’d recognize a scam phone call if it happened to us, but would you really? Almost every week someone contacts Eyewitness News to report another scam, or even worse, tell a story about someone who has fallen victim to a scam and lost valuable time or money.

Eyewitness News wanted to find out how people really respond in a phone scam situation so others can better understand how scammers work, what to look for, and what they should or should not do if they believe they’re being scammed.

Most think it’s the elderly scammers like to target. They’re trusting, more vulnerable and more likely to fall for a scammer’s tricks. Turns out, this is a MYTH. According to a recent study by the Better Business Bureau, 69 percent of scam victims are under the age of 45. Still, since it’s a stereotype, Eyewitness News decided to make seniors its first target group. Two families with senior family members agreed to let Eyewitness News reporter Emily Griffin and Eyewitness News Personal Protection Expert Joe Schillaci set up a fake scam and test it out on their family members.

First, we brought in Eyewitness News Account Executive Michelle Sullivan. She volunteered to try the fake scam on her mom, 86-year-old Ingeborg Sullivan.

“I’m pretty confident she won’t fall for the scam,” Michelle said before the phone call. “I don’t think you can get her.”

Michelle sat in while Schillaci made the phone call to her mother. Here’s how it started:

Joe: Hi, I’m calling for Ms. Ingeborg Sullivan.

Ingeborg: Yes?

Joe: Hi, Ms. Sullivan. This is Chris calling from the American Fraud Prevention Services. Ma’am, please don’t be alarmed but I’m calling about your bank account and some activity we’re seeing on it.

Ingeborg: What are you saying? Someone is in my bank account?

Joe: Yeah, it looks like they are. It looks like we’re getting some activity that somebody could be using your bank account. Can you just verify your account information for me please?

Ingeborg: I don’t have anything here to look that up.

Joe: Ok, they’re using a credit card. Could you give me your credit card number please?

Ingeborg: No, I won’t do this over the phone.

Ingeborg wouldn’t give out a thing, which was a huge relief to her daughter.

“I was worried a little bit,” Michelle said. “I wasn’t quite sure because that was pretty good.”

Emily and Joe tried the scam again on a second potential victim, the 62-year old father of Marcus Moore.

“I do think they’ll decline to go through with it but I think we’ll find out,” Marcus said as the room was being set up for the phone call.

It was the same set up and same fake scam, only this time the potential victim didn’t answer. So, taking a risk, Joe left a message for Steve asking him to call back because there was trouble with his bank account. Surprisingly, Steve Moore did call back in just a few minutes. Here’s how that conversation went:

Joe: Hi, this is Chris?

Steve: Yeah, I was returning you call. My name is Steve.

Joe: Hi, we’ve got some activity on your card that we’re very concerned about, we believe your account may have been hacked. Let me just verify some information.

Steve: I’m not giving you any information, I don’t know who the hell you are. I will call my bank and ask them. I have no idea who you are.

It didn’t take long for Steve to shut down the “scammer” in this case. In both scenarios, as soon as it was clean the “victims” weren’t falling for it, Emily and Joe confessed about what was really going on. Both Ingeborg and Steve were good sports about it.

“I’ve been punked,” Steve said laughing.

In follow up interviews about why they didn’t fall for the scam, both Ingeborg and Steve pointed out a major red flag they picked up on right away.

“If there was something wrong, my bank would have called me,” Ingeborg said.

“You said something about a credit card hack and I’m wondering why my bank isn’t calling me,” Steve added.

They also had advice for anyone, at any age, when it comes to giving out sensitive information.

“When it is about money, you have to be real careful,” Ingeborg said.

“Just be cautious all the time,” continued Steve. “Just tell them no. Don’t give them any information.”

There are several other red flags you can look for to help you identify a possible scam.

1. Scammers are often vague, giving little information about themselves or what group they’re with. If they give an agency name, look it up to make sure it’s legitimate.

2. Scammers will sometimes ask for personal information like bank account information or a social security number. Most legitimate agencies won’t ask for that information over the phone. For example, the IRS will never call you looking for a payment, they’ll contact you by mail.

3. Scammers will also often be pushy or act like the matter is urgent. They often use high-pressure tactics or limited-time offers to get you to act quickly before you realize it’s a scam.

The BBB also encourages anyone who feels they may have been targeted by a scam or scammer, to report it. You can do that by going to the


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