TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: How one phone call could be a costly mistake

One+simple+phone+call+could+have+proven+costly+if+not+for+using+some+forethought.
One simple phone call could have proven costly if not for using some forethought.

One simple phone call could have proven costly if not for using some forethought.

Photo by Macy McGlamery

Photo by Macy McGlamery

One simple phone call could have proven costly if not for using some forethought.

FILY CORDERO, Staff writer

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I did not expect the call. While relaxing in the library on Tuesday, my cell phone rang with a number from Washington D.C. – and for the next 15 minutes two people attempted to scam me with a promise of $9,000 in “college grants.” My thoughts of big cash were soon crushed.

EASY MONEY

“I work with a department in the government,” the man mumbled in broken English during our conversation. “You have been selected out of 17,000 students to receive the award.”

At first, I believed him and got pretty happy because I knew I would need the money for college tuition next year. I’m planning to attend the University of Texas in Austin, and was already thinking about getting that big check. While I received $15,000 in scholarships for the fall, I would need another $10,000 to cover the rest.

“What do I have to do to receive the money?” I asked.

After a few minutes, the man gave me an “official” sounding confirmation number, which I scribbled on a piece of paper. Next, he gave me another phone number and told me to call and give the person who answered the confirmation number.

“Is this real?” I asked before ending the conversation.

“Yes, this is real,” he said. “Again, congratulations on your award.”

COLD, HARD CASH

After hanging up, I called the other number, which was located in New York. A man answered, but seemed to not know who I was. I explained the whole story the previous man told me.

“Can you give me your confirmation number?” he asked, and then continued to ask some other questions. The questions included the spelling of my first and last name, marital status, and how I wanted to receive the money.

The author recreates his phone call.

Photo by Pearl Barua
The author recreates his phone call.

At this point, I was still thinking everything was going well. I already envisioned the check arriving in the mailbox, and even though I needed the college money thoughts of a shiny new car went through my head.

“You have two options to receive the money, through your account or cash,” he said.

I told him I’d rather have cash, and he asked where the nearest Western Union was. I told him I was at school and didn’t know the location of a Western Union, so then he asked me for my zip code.

The man directed me to several locations, and I chose a convenience store on Washington Street. At that moment, I was thinking, “What could go wrong if I was going to receive cash?”

“Call me back after you get out of school,” the man said. “And I’ll show you how to receive the funds.”

REALITY SETS IN

We hung up and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends in the library. I was still thinking it was real. Some of my friends thought it was cool, but a few of them said it was a scam. I started thinking this must be too good to be true, so I Googled “$9,000 government phone scam” on my phone.

A simple search showed that many other people had received the same type of phone call. All had a similar story as mine, and all turned out to be scams to steal money.

How did the two men go about stealing using the “grant” calls? According to my research, the person being scammed was asked to send a “fee” or “charge” to receive the money. The scammers might ask for a few hundred dollars – then the promised “grant” never materialized. The person was simply angry that they lost their money.

Many other Americans have received similar calls, and many websites offer detailed information outlining the scam.

“Even after giving them false information and telling them they are clearly a fraud and to search for 202-657-5337 on the web, they will not give up,” a man from Redwood City, California, posted on ConsumerAffairs.com about the phone calls. “I have been called several times over the past few days.”

The California man adds this: “These people should be shut down, arrested and prosecuted accordingly.”

LESSONS LEARNED

“Every year, thousands of people lose money to telephone scams-from a few dollars to their life savings,” according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Like my case, the FTC says scammers will say anything to cheat people out of their money.

If you hear the line: “You’ve been specially selected for this offer,” red flags should be popping up in your head. Hang up the phone or kindly say, “No thank you.”

The No. 1 rule when dealing with telemarketing scams is to never give out any important information. If the person on the phone is trying very hard to get your bank account, social security, or any other personal information, most likely it’s a scam. Be smart and don’t lose your hard-earned money.

Fily Cordero is a KHS senior newspaper student and will attend the University of Texas in Austin in the fall.

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