OREM — All an elderly woman had to do was send in her bank account number.
When the 79-year-old Orem resident received a notice announcing that she had won $2.5 million, it seemed too good to be true. She was skeptical, police said Wednesday, but a pair of unsolicited letters looked legitimate, and one directed her to call a so-called claim agent named Mark Anderson. One of those letters prominently displays an IRS logo and claims the winnings had been processed by that government organization. The other letter — which introduces Anderson — purports to be from the American Gaming Board and lists a New York address.
The woman called Anderson, who told her she needed to send in some money to claim her winnings. Despite Anderson’s smooth talking, the woman reportedly refused and said she didn’t have any money to send. But he told her not to worry. Instead, he reportedly claimed, he’d transfer some cash into her bank account, and she could send that money.
The scenario seemed plausible enough to the woman, so she reportedly gave Anderson her bank account number. And shortly thereafter, $13,000 appeared in her account, police say. Then, likely thinking she was on the road to riches, she began sending the money to places in Oklahoma and Florida.
But according to Orem Department of Public Safety Sgt. Craig Martinez, Anderson kept stringing the woman along. By Sept. 30, she had sent out $80,000 dollars of her own money. When she still hadn’t received her winnings, she finally contacted police.
Martinez said the woman was the victim of a scam. She had not won any money, and police are unlikely to ever recover the $80,000 she lost because she voluntarily sent it out, albeit under a misconception.
“It’s a huge hit,” Martinez said. “Not only to her pocketbook, but also to her self-esteem.”
To make matters even worse, the $13,000 that the woman initially received had actually been charged from her own credit card, which was linked to her bank account. That charge brought her total losses up to $93,000, though Martinez said it looks like she will be able to recover the $13,000.
According to Martinez, police are investigating the crime but are unlikely to make arrests because scammers usually operate from outside the United States. Though recent scam victims have been elderly, Martinez said that crooks likely send out large numbers of misleading notifications trying to see who they can draw in.
“Once they get their claws into them the just don’t let up,” he added.
Martinez speculated that elderly people may be more susceptible to scams because they are on a fixed income, could have lost a lot during the recession and are hoping to make money more quickly.
To avoid becoming a victim, Martinez advised people to never send money to anyone they don’t already know well. And if someone makes an offer relating to money, it never hurts to run it by police.
“Rather than contacting the people out there, contact the police first,” Martinez said.