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Scammers Posing as U.S. Government Target Virginia Woman

Cyber thieves claim Mary's identity was stolen in an effort to steal money from her

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] I almost felt like I was hypnotized, and I would do anything he said.

[00:00:08] And I see this text and it says, "Give me a call when you're free, but make sure no one's with you."

[00:00:13] The FBI believes that behind every $12,000 victim is a million dollar case.

[00:00:21] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Today's story is really charming. It's basically a movie script. It's about 96-year-old Mary. She's a young 96, we'll say. She still drives on the road and on the golf course. She's enjoying her active life, but that's not the movie. Mary has two sisters. She's the oldest, you might have guessed. While all three of them are widows, two of them recently, and they decided this fall they wanted to go on vacation together, in California. Mary's niece who is also named Mary, and I promise I'll try to make sure this isn't confusing. While Mary the niece volunteers to be their driver and chaperone as the three sisters go galivanting around Southern California enjoying some very fine wine along the way, so that's the backdrop. But only a few days before Mary gets on that plane from Virginia to California, there's a mysterious phone call from a man who says he's a federal investigator. He sends Mary on a far less pleasant journey. But before we get to that, let's meet Mary.

[00:01:37] Bob: How long have you been in Virginia?

[00:01:38] Aunt Mary: Since 1969.

[00:01:40] Bob: So recently you moved there. (laugh)

[00:01:43] Aunt Mary: Yeah.

[00:01:46] Bob: Since 1969, wow. What brought you there?

[00:01:48] Aunt Mary: My husband's job.

[00:01:52] Bob: And what was your husband's job?

[00:01:56] Aunt Mary: He was in the anodizing business. Well we had been in New Jersey. Before that we were in Michigan.

[00:02:04] Bob: And were you a child in Michigan?

[00:02:07] Aunt Mary: Yes.

[00:02:08] Bob: So they tell me that you're 96 years old, is that right?

[00:02:13] Aunt Mary: Yes.

[00:02:14] Bob: That's fantastic. My dad just turned 88 yesterday.

[00:02:09] Aunt Mary: Belated birthday greetings.

[00:02:22] Bob: (laugh) I will tell him that you said so. Thank you very much. Um, and he still drives, and he still does all...

[00:02:29] Aunt Mary: I still drive.

[00:02:30] Bob: That's fantastic.

[00:02:31] Bob: Mary, is lucky enough to have a lot of family support including from her niece, Mary, who really admires her Aunt Mary.

[00:02:40] Niece Mary: She has always been probably of her three sisters, she has always been the most daring, the most outgoing, has traveled to the most countries, sometimes on her own. Always looking for new experiences. She was the one that was always traveling. She was the one that was always more involved in sports than her other sisters. You know, she played tennis until recently. She still goes out and plays golf. She might not start on the tee box. She might start in the fairway, she might not finish 9 holes, but she's playing golf still. You know, she's, and she's in bridge groups, she stayed active through COVID, she drives her own car, she, you know, takes care of her own errands. Extremely intelligent, extremely together, managing, you know, with, with broker's assistance and stuff, but managing her portfolios, her funds. Very independent, in her own home, you know, getting in adaptive equipment as needed, but very self-sufficient.

[00:03:34] Bob: Last fall, niece Mary, who lives in Seattle, decides as a gift to her mom and her two aunts, she would help them have a very special trip.

[00:03:43] Niece Mary: So the baby of the family who turned 81 recently, wanted to use her timeshare and take her two older sisters on a trip. The three of them are widows. Two of them in more recent years. This is the, the baby sister, you know, the, the 81-year-old that kept saying I want to go on a trip with my sisters, and kept pushing to make it happen. So they started looking for places. I gave them the two weeks when I was available to go with them to drive them around, so I was kind of the planner and the chauffeur, but at one time I think somebody called me the chaperone, and I thought, aw, it's a little bit of both, I think. But...

[00:04:18] Bob: Okay, time out, time out. This is a movie plot.

[00:04:22] Niece Mary: Yeah, okay. Perfect. Perfect.

[00:04:25] Bob: After a lot of discussion, they settle on Southern California. So that's the setting. Three mature women, three sisters, three widows flying to San Diego meeting one of their daughters who acts as chaperone. They even get shirts made up for the trip. They're pretty cute. I've seen the pictures. They say, "Golden Girls." Anyway, the trip is a triumph, especially after the long COVID shutdown. But there's one thing about the trip. Something's just not right. And Mary, the chauffeur, senses that, right from the start, basically from the moment her aunt got off the plane.

[00:05:03] Niece Mary: It had been a very long travel day, especially for Mary since her flight got cancelled. She had big delays. They were all supposed to come in together and meet on a connecting flight, and Mary came in late, and I was at the gate, and finally said to the pilot, you know, "Where is she?" He said, "I'll go get her." So this exhausted 96-year-old comes off the plane. We had about a 45 minute drive. We get to our condo. Her phone's ringing.

[00:05:28] Bob: The family hasn't really even unpacked. Everyone is there. The three sisters, Mary, the niece, her daughter, and they all hear the phone and think it's strange.

[00:05:38] Niece Mary: They're all alarmed and saying something's going on here. And I hear, "I just can't be bothered by this right now. I'm on vacation. I'm gone for a week; I'll take care of it when I get home." So I went in, and I said, "Aunt Mary, what's going on?" And she said, "This is personal business. It's okay. It's okay. It's something I've got to deal with and it's personal business, and I'm, I told him I'd call him later. I'll take care of it later." So I said, "You know, Aunt Mary, there's no legit personal business that's going to be calling you at 9:30 at night when it's 12:30 a.m. your time." And she said, "Oh no, no, no, I know this person, you know, I call him by my grandson's name, and I know him." And I said, "So you have met this person face-to-face at a legitimate place of business." And she just stared at me.

[00:06:25] Bob: What was on in Aunt Mary's mind? Why the evasive answers? Why the dead stare? To understand that, we have to go back in time, about a week or so as Mary makes final preparations for the trip. The phone rings, and she hears an unexpected voice on the other end of the line.

[00:06:46] Aunt Mary: I think it was morning, in the morning, rather early. It said, "US Government" on my, you're taken out of, it's a sudden thing. "US Government." So of course I pick it up. And the voice says, "My name is William Jameson." And when I checked afterwards, it was a 200 number, and I know that 200... 202 was Washington DC's code. Well he told me that my identity had been stolen.

[00:07:25] Bob: Her identity has been stolen. The man on the other end of the line starts to tell Mary he needs her help with the investigation.

[00:07:33] Aunt Mary: And then I had to do all this to try to catch this guy that was said of stoling, selling or trying to stole my identity. And he has this very, very calm voice. And it never changes. And he's very, very polite.

[00:07:55] Bob: Over the next few days, Mary will follow very meticulously all the instructions given to her by this William Jameson, including the instruction that she not tell anyone what's going on. He says, "secrecy is really important" as she's trying to help the government lay a trap for this criminal. So we'll keep Mary's secret too for now, and fast forward back to the day of their California vacation to when Mary lands and there's that mysterious late night phone call.

[00:08:27] Aunt Mary: I flew to San Diego, and then we were staying in Carlsbad, California.

[00:08:35] Bob: Oh beautiful, yeah.

[00:08:36] Aunt Mary: He had said to me when I got there to call him. So when I got to Carlsbad, he said he didn't want anybody to know I was calling him. So I went and I called him. Well then, for some reason my iPhone, the alarm was set, and the alarm went off, so my niece, Mary, went to turn off the alarm, and for some reason she saw that I had called this man.

[00:09:13] Bob: The family knows nothing about William Jameson when they discover this call. And Aunt Mary isn't spilling the beans. They mystery doesn't sit well with them.

[00:09:23] Niece Mary: So everybody was alarmed. We brought it up a couple more times. She kept, you know, she told her one sister, "Don't worry about it, everything is going to be fine. I'll tell you about everything when it's all over."

[00:09:34] Bob: And everything is fine, at least as far as the trip goes.

[00:09:38] Niece Mary: Just being together and having that time with those three women, and the fact that my daughter was able to come down and join us, and just to have that time together, I think, especially for my mother, who had recently lost a husband and a daughter, to be able to have that quality time with her sisters and relax and be driven around and to see the, the beautiful coastline there in California, and just, you know, we didn't, we weren't super active. We visited a couple places; the San Diego Botanical Gardens were gorgeous. Had a lot of nice meals. Had a lot of nice wine (chuckles).

[00:10:18] Bob: The three sisters are a hit, even to other tourists.

[00:10:22] Niece Mary: I don't know if you've seen any pictures of them, but they're, they're showstoppers. I mean people, people would look at the three of them and say, "Oh my gosh, you guys are adorable." And then I, of course, would say, "Well, the baby's 82, and this woman's 92, this woman's 96," and people would just be amazed. And then they would kind of take it from there. And I, I heard one young girl walk away saying, "Oh my gosh, meeting them has made my day."

[00:10:49] Bob: But it's hard to keep a secret from your sisters after 80 or 90 years, and to keep a secret from that chauffeur niece. At one point, Aunt Mary needs some help with an app on her smartphone, and her niece takes advantage of that opportunity.

[00:11:04] Niece Mary: Fortunately, she didn't know how to access some things in her phone, and it wasn't the brand that I use, so she gave it to me, and it took me a little bit to figure out how to use it. And I saw tons of text messages and tons of phone calls from unidentified numbers. And I asked her if she texted. And she said, "No, I don't, I don't text anymore. I, I don't do that." So this was on Thursday um, where the initial call had come through the Friday before, and I see this text, and it says, "Give me a call when you're free but make sure no one's with you."

[00:11:38] Bob: That's it, Mary, the niece, says to herself. Something is very wrong. She's got to get the rest of the family involved.

[00:11:46] Niece Mary: So I sent my cousin a, a screenshot and I said, something's going on here. He took off with that, notified his brothers, and kind of took it from there, but I went in, I blocked my caller ID, I called the number, it just rang and then disconnected. But I couldn't spend a lot of time with her phone, and I couldn't make her give me her phone. And she took it, and of course, put it away and was charging it someplace, and we couldn't locate it.

[00:12:14] Bob: As Mary tries to figure out what to do next and discusses plans with her cousins, she makes an incredibly sensitive choice. She doesn't want to ruin this wonderful trip for the three sisters, so she decides not to talk to her Aunt Mary about her suspicions. Not yet anyway.

[00:12:32] Niece Mary: My concern in terms of confronting her directly and trying to stop everything was she was getting a little upset as the week went on, and she was appearing a little bit frail, and I didn't want to cause any harm to her by alarming her with information. I felt comfortable that she had told the guy it wasn't going to happen. She wasn't going to call him 'till she got back home, so my intent was to notify my cousin to have him make sure it was dealt with as soon as she got home.

[00:13:04] Bob: Still, they are worried for her. So they make a plan to distract Mary and take one last look at her phone before she flies home.

[00:13:12] Niece Mary: So luckily, the next day before she was supposed to be, we were getting up early and getting off to go to the, back to the airport to put her and her one sister back on the flight home, she needed to go into airplane mode. So I had her phone and let the other sister, kind of got her in the other room, and I went in right away.

[00:13:28] Bob: It confirms her worst fears. Calls and texts from all over, even during the trip. It isn't clear what the caller wants, but Mary, the niece, knows it can't be good. So first, she wants to put an end to whatever is going on.

[00:13:43] Niece Mary: I responded to the text and just said, "Authorities have been notified," blocked the calls that I could, and then it felt like we had stopped it and, and again notified my cousin as to what I had done. And my cousin also lives here on the West Coast, but he has the brothers back there where Mary is, so he let them right, know right away and assured me that his brother was going to take care of it when he picked her up that night from the airport.

[00:14:06] Bob: She still decides it would be best to let her Aunt Mary get on the plane without confronting her with this new information confident that her cousin will be able to take care of things when she lands back home on the East Coast.

[00:14:19] Niece Mary: She was appearing tender to us and fragile. We had talked about some medical concerns, I knew she had a doctor's appointment coming up, but I was concerned about her, her state of health and her state of mind, and I didn't want to thrust all that on her, and then have to put her on that long plane ride back home.

[00:14:34] Bob: So Mary flies home where she's picked up by her son, John. John is looking for a way to break the news to his mom, but it comes up naturally.

[00:14:44] John: No, we just walked in the door, walked in the door and set her luggage down, and had gone into the kitchen. She was checking her messages, and this message from the package place came up. She had this message from one of these, you know these uh places where you drop off UPS and FedEx packages and everything to be mailed. And they said that they were having, they were having a problem delivering a package to this Joe Gill guy.

[00:15:15] Bob: Oh.

[00:15:16] John: So I was kind of, I mean I was waiting for the right moment that I started questioning her. "Who's this Joe Gill. Who's this Joe Gill? Why did you mail him a package?" She says, "I mailed him a package of money."

[00:15:28] Bob: 'I mailed him a package of money," she says, following the instructions she had been given thinking she was helping the federal government catch her identity thief. Mary had withdrawn thousands of dollars from the bank and packaged it very carefully in a box and mailed it off.

[00:15:46] Aunt Mary: Well he, you put it in a magazine, divide it in between different pages. And then you wrap it in aluminum foil and put it in a shoe box, and then you mail that to Joseph Gill.

[00:16:10] Bob: But he had you stuff hundred dollar bills into the pages of a magazine and then wrap it in tinfoil and put it in a box?

[00:16:16] Aunt Mary: Yeah.

[00:16:18] Bob: Mary's daughter-in-law, Noel, explains why the elaborate packaging.

[00:16:22] Noel: And the reason for the tinfoil, he told her was that when she took it to the place to mail, you cannot tell these people that there's cash in the box because they're crooks, and somebody will steal it. Somebody at the package place will steal it, or the UPS driver will steal it. You cannot tell them there's money in this box. You tell them they are electronics, which is why you're going to wrap it in aluminum foil.

[00:16:48] Bob: After a few tears, Mary tells the whole story to John. She had put $16,000 in bills into that magazine in that box. And over the next few hours, Mary tells her children that she bought a series of gift cards at William Jameson's instructions too.

[00:17:08] Aunt Mary: So when he was telling me to go buy all these gift cards from Lowes and from Target, and sending me all over town, and he'd always say, you know, there's no hurry. Drive carefully.

[00:17:26] John: He also mentioned, don't tell anybody about this.

[00:17:30] Aunt Mary: Yeah. Yeah, warned me not to talk to anybody about it.

[00:17:33] Noel: This took place over approximately five days. It started on September the 10th, 2021, and it went through September the 15th, 2021. So over this five-day period, she was receiving multiple calls from this William gentleman, which also happens to be one of her son's, so she's got this very polite, nice gentleman named William telling her what to do and to the point where he was specific about the denominations that she could purchase at one time at various locations. So he would send her to Lowe's where he knew that they had a $2500 maximum on gift card purchases. And he would send her to CVS where he knew they had a $1000 maximum on gift card purchase. Target, on, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:18:32] Bob: During that weekend, Mary starts to come to terms with the fact that she wasn't helping catch a criminal. She was a victim of a crime.

[00:18:40] Aunt Mary: I thought I was helping him to somehow through this locate who was stealing my identity. As I say, I almost felt like I was hypnotized.

[00:18:53] Bob: Mary, the niece, spends the next several days very concerned about her aunt's state of mind. Everyone was, but they all swept into action.

[00:19:03] Niece Mary: They were also very worried about her. She had a very tearful weekend. She had moments when they would just, she would just look at them and, and not speak, and that concerned them. But they were very guarded and with her and protective. One son took on the role of, and she has three sons in that area, so one son took on the role of you know, kind of talking to her about it. Another son just took on the role of, I'm going to be with you, but I'm not asking you any questions about this. If you want to talk about it, I'm here, but I'm, I'm going to be here and not ask you about it. So, um, and then uh her, her daughter-in-law, the wife of the, the youngest son, you know, she was with her all the time and really helped her through a tremendous amount of, of legalities and cancellations and notifications and all that.

[00:19:51] Bob: There was a lot to work through. Aunt Mary wasn't very happy with her niece's investigative skills, not at first anyway.

[00:20:00] Niece Mary: I know she was mad at me. I know she felt like I was snooping in her phone, and, and I said, you know what, she can be as mad at me as she wants to be, but I think that, I think that passed very rapidly. I got a very sweet note from her after I got home. But you know my, we all kept reinforcing and, and I wasn't speaking to her directly, because I didn't want to be, you know, too many people were coming down on her and talking to her about it. But I know her sisters and everyone just kept telling her, you know, you are the victim. You do not have to feel bad about this. This is, they took advantage of you just as if you were in some place and somebody robbed you. You are the victim here. There's nothing to be ashamed about.

[00:20:39] Bob: And because of quick action by the family, not all was lost. They were able to get some of the gift card money back. Noel explains how.

[00:20:48] Noel: Well I think the first thing once we all realized that this had taken place, we actually just basically had this huge, huge stack of gift cards. And Mom is very meticulous in her recordkeeping, which is another reason why we were all so shocked by this, and why she, she herself felt so shocked. So you know, she's got all of the receipts for the purchases with the gift cards. She's got the activation receipts for having, I guess perhaps they've instructed her to make sure that the cards were activated, even after she had made the purchases. And she's got all this information together, so we started by calling to see if there was any balance remaining on these gift cards, and we sort of just took it like a deck of cards and shuffled them out to, you know, two sons and myself, you know. And then brother Joe on the West Coast said, "You know, sometimes you'll call, and they'll say there's no value to these gift cards. I suggest you go to the actual store and present them to the customer service desk and see whether or not there's any money left on any of these gift cards." We were able to recover $3500 in gift cards that had not been redeemed. Now we're not sure if perhaps Mom read the numbers incorrectly over the phone, and then we, we found two $500 CVS gift cards that the pin had not been scratched off yet. So I just think that she hadn't gotten to that yet.

[00:22:30] Bob: Despite that silver lining, it's been a really hard time for Mary.

[00:22:36] Bob: So it's only been a few weeks. I mean are you still angry about it?

[00:22:39] Aunt Mary: Yes, sometimes I, I can't sleep at night. I wake up and I'm going over the whole thing in my mind. I did tell my doctor, and he has given me anxiety medication. And about the only way I can sleep is to uh take the anxiety medication.

[00:23:02] Bob: The three sisters did make wonderful memories on their vacation. And the trip actually had an unexpected benefit.

[00:23:10] Bob: I mean this might sound strange, but have you thought about how lucky you are that this trip was planned, and it happened, you know, right in the middle of this scam?

[00:23:18] Niece Mary: Oh, absolutely. Like I said, I think this could have gone on and on and on because she lives alone. You know, she would have been getting all these calls and, and doing everything, and it's possible that the kids wouldn't have been visiting her at the time when she got the calls. So yes, we're, we're all very thankful.

[00:23:36] Bob: You know that's a testament to what a great, great you all are at taking care of each other. I mean, because you had something nice planned that stopped this crime in its tracks, so you all deserve a big round of applause of that.

[00:23:48] Bob: Another good reason to go on vacation, and to stay in contact with loved ones who live alone. Mary, the niece, left the experience with some insights she wants to share with other people. Mainly about answering the phone. Just don't do it.

[00:24:03] Niece Mary: Don't answer calls from people you don't know. And just because caller ID says it's someone, it doesn't mean that's who it is. When it says IRS or US Government, or State Police, or Social Security, that's not who, most often, they're not going to be calling you. And Social Security and, and IRS are not going to be calling you. Don't answer those calls. If it's important, they'll leave a message, but if you do, do answer the call and if anyone ever says don't tell anyone, you hang up immediately. So this is, this has finally stopped the two sisters from answering calls from unknown callers which we had a hard time getting them to do that. It's that Midwestern politeness. The phone rings, you pick it up. You know is it, nope, nope. Do not answer.

[00:24:49] Bob: Aunt Mary has suggestions for other people too, and that's why she agreed to tell her story to us.

[00:24:56] Bob: What kind of advice would you give other people who might get a phone call like this?

[00:25:01] Aunt Mary: Never answer the phone unless you know absolutely who it is.

[00:25:06] Bob: As I kept talking with Mary, it was obvious that she was still coming down pretty hard on herself despite family members telling her not to blame herself. So this time, I was the one offering advice.

[00:25:19] Bob: When all this was over, how did you feel about it all?

[00:25:22] Aunt Mary: Very stupid.

[00:25:25] Bob: Were you angry?

[00:25:27] Aunt Mary: Yes.

[00:25:29] Bob: Who, who are you angry at?

[00:25:32] Aunt Mary: Myself.

[00:25:33] Bob: Yeah, so you should be angry at the criminal, not yourself. You weren't stupid, you weren't any of those things. You, you were a victim of, of a criminal, and a system. Okay, so I'm, I'm going to let you go, but before I let you go, I'm going to tell you what I tell everybody, and I, I've done a hundred of these interviews over the past two years, you're no longer allowed to use the word stupid about yourself. Today was the last time. There's nothing stupid about this, you had a professional who took advantage of you in a vulnerable place. So be angry, if you're going to be angry, be angry at the criminal, not yourself.

[00:26:02] Aunt Mary: I'll try.

[00:26:08] Bob: Stories like this make FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brady Finta angry, really angry. When I talked with him about Mary's case, I could tell he takes these things personally.

[00:26:20] Agent Finta: Yeah, you know, it breaks my heart and it, and it doesn't, it doesn't ever get better. Every time I hear one of these particularly when I'm involved with interactions with the victims themselves, it's hard for me to take. I have a lot of passion for this, for this crime because specifically of the victimization of, of our older Americans, and, and for the reasons, meaning, you know, most of these, these folks are victimized because they care so much and because they want to help. It's not people getting ripped off because they're greedy or because they're, you know, trying to cut corners. It lights a fire in me.

[00:27:03] Bob: The good news is that fire gets results. From his FBI office in San Diego, Agent Finta does track down criminals and get consumers their money back. At least some of the time.

[00:27:15] Bob: We hear so often that the victims in these situations, there's just no hope for justice, let alone even getting their money back, but, but sometimes you have success, right? How often is that the case?

[00:27:28] Agent Finta: Well, coming up with a percentage would be difficult, but I would say there's always something we can do and when the FBI takes on these cases with a dedicated team, we have remarkable success at times. Very recently, our team here indicted 8 subjects all over the United States and overseas...

[00:27:49] Bob: But Agent Finta stressed, those investigations can only happen when victims have the courage to step forward, when they tell family members what's happened, when they call their police department and fill out a crime report, or when they call the FBI.

[00:28:03] Bob: Can people really call the FBI?

[00:28:07] Agent Finta: Absolutely, 100%. Every FBI office has, has a public access line. There's a national public access line for the FBI: 1-800-CALLFBI. Specifically though with respect to these cases, our efforts at the FBI are designed to not only educate to some degree, but bring in all of our local police departments to a common operating picture that allows us all to impact this problem and to work together. So we still recommend individual, local city police departments or, or county sheriffs, are called first, a police report filed, and our outreach with the FBI will include those departments in, in a cooperative efforts to tackle this problem on a larger scale.

[00:28:57] Bob: So call your police department right away.

[00:29:00] Agent Finta: 100%.

[00:29:01] Bob: It's also valuable for victims to file a report at the Internet Crime Complaint Center website,, even if they've already filled out a police report. Sometimes it can feel like the report isn't doing any good, but Agent Finta told me that he looks at the data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center with every single investigation he conducts. You might think your crime is small, but it just might be the final piece of a puzzle that the FBI can put together.

[00:29:30] Agent Finta: Well, the FBI believes that behind every $12,000 victim, is a million dollar case.

[00:29:34] Bob: I hadn't heard that ex--, expression before. That's great.

[00:29:37] Agent Finta: I have that up on the wall in my office.

[00:29:39] Bob: So the Bureau wants all the tips, all the complaints, all the phone calls it can get from victims, he says.

[00:29:45] Bob: So when you get a call like that, what's the first thing you do?

[00:29:50] Agent Finta: Well that's a good question. That does, that does vary based on the, the type of situation. We're, we're lucky enough, we're very lucky here in San Diego to have a dedicated team to work what we call elder justice. And depending on circumstances of the complaint, sometimes we treat it like a, essentially like a live extortion where, you know, we immediately dispatch a team to the victim, and if we can, it'll include one of our folks trained in crisis negotiation. We immediately assess whether or not there's a tech assistance that we can apply to the case. And we start working it live, meaning collecting evidence that day if we can of the subjects and potentially planning an operation where we can either follow money or technical resources like IP addresses.

[00:30:53] Bob: These cases aren't easy to prosecute. It takes a long time to put together that jigsaw puzzle, but when Agent Finta can put someone behind bars who is hurt, a victim like Mary, well that makes it all worthwhile.

[00:31:05] Bob: When you either get some money back, or once in a while, put, put a bad guy in jail, how does that feel?

[00:31:11] Agent Finta: These cases are incredibly fulfilling. I worked transnational organized crime that's specifically cartel financed and, and violence for years and years and years. And besides the self-satisfaction of achieving at the end of a case, I never felt the, the type of elation that we do when we dismantle one of these organizations that's specifically targeting and victimizing our elders. It's, it's a great feeling.

[00:31:42] Bob: Agent Finta has one critical piece of advice for listeners. Something you should share with everyone you know. If anyone says you have to race out and buy a gift card to pay them, it's almost certainly a scam. Don't do it.

[00:31:57] Agent Finta: There's no legitimate reason that you're going to be required to rush out and buy gift cards. There, there's just not. Unless you're forgetting your kids' best friend's 12-year-old birthday party, there, there is, there is no governmental agency that is ever going to require you to buy a gift card. There's no lawyer that's going to say, hey, if you don't buy $5000 of gift cards in the next two hours that this is going to happen. If there's ever a reason that particularly someone over the phone tells you you absolutely have to buy gift cards, you can assume that it's a scam. And, and what we hope that people will do is just take that pause, just take that moment and call. Call a family member, call the FBI, call the local police department, but just take a moment and call.

[00:32:57] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



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When 96-year-old Mary steps off the plane in California for a vacation with her sisters, her niece can tell that something isn’t right. Her normally vibrant aunt looks tired and frazzled. But the truth is even wilder than she thinks: Aunt Mary believes she’s in the midst of an elaborate operation working with a government agent to catch the criminals who have stolen her identity. 

The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.


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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.