BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — A Beaufort County woman thought she was in trouble with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) it turned out she was the victim of a scam.
$800,000 from one Beaufort County woman and $500,000 a year in other successful scams in the Lowcountry, according to Beaufort County investigators.
From romance to fear, grifters from around the world are calling or even coming to our area to take advantage and take the money of unsuspecting people.
“We turned off his phone, changed his landline number,” said Master Sgt. Eric Calendine with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. “Did everything to protect him. The bad guy is smart enough now he ordered a pizza from the local pizza place. they called in, ‘I want to have a pizza delivered to my grandfather. Can you put a number on it I want to wish him happy birthday?’ what happens, the bad guy reestablishes contact because the bad guy gets the pizza. Your grandson wants to wish you happy birthday. Calls the number. Back in contact with the scam artist.”
According to Calendine, these swindlers are getting more creative by the day. Using not just computers but Best Buy Geek Squad account takeovers, landlines, Amazon support calls/texts, cell phones, iTunes gift cards, cryptocurrency, and fear to get local folks — mostly older — to hand over cash.
“it’s easier to go after their money than robbing a bank,” Calendine said. “We haven’t had a bank robbery in Beaufort County that I can remember since 2016. But multiple victims weekly are falling prey to these scams. They grew up in an age where they didn’t have this technology. Now they do and they don’t quite understand it and they believe people.”
“They are preying upon those that are lonely, the red flags go off because of the resources they have. “
“I know two of three cases where people have lost their houses and are in assisted living facilities and are just devastated. They just fell victim to this scam and lost their house.”
“The scam artists have a playbook. Here’s how you follow this playbook to fool this person into having a relationship with you to get to the point where they are finally going to send you money. They are about praying with people, asking about their family. The scammer will have their own family where they have stories to tell. they build that relationship even before money changes hands.” Calendine continued.
While the majority of the scams start overseas, many have help here at home.
“Local people are using some kind of resources. There are some people locally involved in these scams along with internationally.”
Calendine presents the information to clubs and communities around the county to try and stop the scam artists from getting away with it.
Presenting information about the various scam possibilities, even something as simple as stopping mail delivery. Check if you miss a few days of mail. A swindler may be about to get your information, have mail forwarded, and take your credit card and bank statements to use to steal cash.
“The lady thought she got a call from the CIA saying her accounts were compromised and she needed to meet somebody in the parking lot of the Walmart. that one just screams, I can’t believe the bank let her get $100,000 out,” said Calendine.
The Master Sergeant says to let everyone know they aren’t alone and that someone is fighting for them.
Q: “How many arrests do you make in a year.?”
A: “In this game? I mean all this money goes out. there is none. All we are trying to do is prevent it from happening again. Because I don’t have any jurisdiction in where this money is going.”
“I don’t have jurisdiction in china. Jurisdiction internationally. The big thing for us is to prevent this from happening. Stop the bleeding because we have so much money leaving this area in scams it is overwhelming.”
“We’ve stopped money, especially for people who have used UPS or FedEx,” Calendine continued. “You feel good about it. It’s a win for us. We may not get an arrest out of it but we stopped the fraud.”
South Carolina has a law in place where banks can hold withdrawals or large wire transfers that they believe could be “suspicious”. But because they aren’t liable for the missing cash, many don’t flag these transactions at all.
“They can follow up. Mr. Smith is trying to withdraw $100,000 we are kind of concerned. He says it a for a property. Do you know what if anything is going on? By doing that it helps you protect your finances and also makes sure your bank has a chance to make sure it is on the up and up.”
The best defense against these criminals is time.
Calendine said you shouldn’t make any immediate decisions or withdrawals. Call your family, your bank or the local sheriff’s office.
Make sure to have a power of attorney made. That way someone else can call the bank or find out more information about your account.
Tell them the story and their answer could be the key to saving you a lot of money.
Don’t be afraid to call the Sheriff’s Office near you as well.
“We want them to call us and file a report because we may not be able to get the money back but if I can help prevent it from happening to somebody else or I can help stop what’s going on,” says Calendine. “Help provide these resources for the recovery effort. All these different steps that they may not know about we can provide them with resources that can help.”
Calendine says don’t give out any personal information like Social Security numbers or bank account numbers over the phone. Hang up if you don’t want to talk or if the person on the phone is pressuring you.
The Better Business Bureau has made it easier to keep track of fraud against people in your area. To view their scam tracker, click or tap here.
If you would like to report potential scams to the Federal Trade Commission call 1-877-382-4357.
Or go to identitytheft.gov to report it to the Social Security Administration.
IC3.gov is the FBI’s Internet Computer Crime Center.