The woman’s letter got right to the point. If people call you and ask you to wire cash to the Dominican Republic, don’t send them any money because they are liars and thieves and you will never see your money again.
There was no signature on the letter, although the writer did put her return address on the envelope. The woman didn’t want her name used because she was afraid, she said. The people might come after her. More realistically, naming her might set her up as a target for more con artists. So we won’t use her name.
Someone had called her on the phone claiming to represent a big cereal company, telling her she had won a big prize. The cereal company was giving away money so it could get a tax break, but first the winners had to pay taxes or something, and the money had to be wired to an address in the Dominican Republic.
The woman fell for the scam. In time, the scammers, using a telephone number with a New York state area code, called the woman again and again, browbeating her, insulting her, telling her she was going to lose everything if she didn’t do exactly as she was told.
Tellers at the bank looked at her a little funny when she started making big withdrawals, but no one ever asked what she was doing with the money, and the woman never said anything to them.
The withdrawals, several, were wired to the Dominican Republic, and by the time the woman realized it was all a fraud, she had sent a total of $5,000 to crooks. Even then, she was almost too afraid to tell off the con artists who kept calling her.
When it was all over, the woman wrote a letter to the newspaper, hoping it would get printed so other people would learn about the scam and not get ripped off.
The sad part is that the woman did nothing else. She never called the police. She never reported the scam to any law enforcement agency, mostly because she felt stupid and figured no one could do anything. She let it go.
In essence, the scam artists had pulled off the perfect crime, robbing someone and leaving her afraid to even report it.
And some people might believe that reporting such a crime might seem pointless. Local police can’t do a lot when the thief is operating from a telephone of uncertain origin and money has been wired to someone using a bogus name in another country.
We called the FBI, and officials acknowledged that a $5,000 scam is below the threshold that sparks federal prosecutors’ interest. Also, the FBI has no jurisdiction in other countries, although it does work with liaisons in other countries.
Regardless, people who have been scammed do need to report it, both to local police and by filing a report online at www.ic3.gov – the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Reporting a rip-off on the Web site can make a difference if other victims of the same scam file reports. If enough victims of the same scammers file reports, it will catch the attention of investigators, we were told.
The fact is, though, scams seem to be a pretty safe way of making a living.
So the best strategy, the FBI told us, is to never give out personal information about yourself, such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, personal identification numbers or anything else.
Remember that people don’t win contests they don’t enter, and no contest in the world requires you to pay money upfront to get more money.
And if you do get ripped off, report it to the police and online.
Tell your friends of the scam someone tried on you. You don’t have to acknowledge that you got ripped off if it embarrasses you.