DENVER — Editor's note: Contact7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at email@example.com or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact7 stories here.
A Denver man says he was scammed out of nearly $90,000 from a fraudulent call that seemed legitimate. Now, he’s warning others about how sophisticated these calls are getting.
Richard Swanton says he received a call this month from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration and saying his Social Security number was going to be suspended.
He didn’t believe the first caller, so he hung up. Later that day, a second person called and said the same thing, then started trying to prove they were credible.
“They had my last four numbers of my Social Security, the last three numbers of my bank account,” Swanton said. “They knew my name and my address, they knew everything.”
They also knew, or claimed to know, that he didn’t have a criminal record. The caller then started telling Swanton that someone had opened a bank account and had laundered $200,000 in his name. Then, the claims got more serious.
“They told me that somebody rented a car and that they found this car and it had blood in it,” Swanton said,
The car was allegedly also rented in his name. The caller then started telling him that U.S. Marshals from Texas were going to start coming after him and he could face serious charges if he didn’t get this cleared up quickly.
Swanton was called by at least four people who all claimed to be a different person from a different branch of the government working together on his case.
The plan was to transfer all of his money to another, supposedly secure, account.
“They made me go to the bank, get a bank transfer and do the transfer,” he said. “I also sent a picture of my driver’s license. How stupid. I mean, I should’ve figured it out.”
The scammers even sent photos of fake cashier’s checks to him to prove they were going to send the money right back to him.
Two days later, they called again and told him they needed him to move more money from the account before he could shut it down. In the end, the scammers managed to convince Swanton to transfer around $90,000 to them.
“It was a lot," he said. "Almost all the money I had. It was my life savings.”
Swanton says he now barely has enough money left to keep his air-conditioning business afloat and pay his bills.
“It was too late by the time I got suspicious,” he said.
However, this Social Security scam is not the only fraudulent call going around. Last month, Cathy Martinez received a call from a different type of scammer.
“I got a phone call and they asked for me by name and said that they were with my bank by name and said that they received a potential fraudulent payment of $2,000 and asked if I was in Florida,” Martinez said.
When Martinez told him she was in Denver, the scammer said he would help her get this cleared up, but in order to do that he needed her to give him her online banking login information.
That didn’t seem right to Martinez because she had fraudulent payments on her card in the past and knew how the process of rectifying it should work.
“It was very different that experience,” Martinez said.
When she refused to provide the login information, the caller started getting rude and demanding for that information, even cussing at her. He even threatened to close down her account if she refused to give him the information.
“He immediately got very aggressive again and told me that I should look at the back of my card because the number he’s calling from is the same number as my bank and I did pull out my card," Martinez said. "I looked at my phone and I compared the two and they were the exact same number."
The scammer had managed to spoof her bank’s phone number and was hoping that would be enough to convince her to hand over personal information.
What the scammer didn’t know was that Martinez works for a customer service call center and knows more than the average person about how these phone calls should work.
“There is a lot of rules and laws in place. You have to identify yourself you have to explain that your call can be recorded, things like that,” she said.
Luckily, she hung up and didn’t fall for the fraudulent call, but even she was almost fooled.
“It’s easy to fall for this stuff,” she said.
These scam calls are not only getting more sophisticated, they’re also becoming more common.
According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, the number of complaints about scams is at an all-time high. Americans have lost at least $450 million since 2014 in scams.
Government imposter scams top the list of the complaints the FTC is receiving, and calls coming from the Social Security Administration top that list.
“I’d say nine out of the 10 times my phone rings, it’s something that is somebody trying to solicit me or scam me,” Martinez said. “It’s extremely disappointing that I pay for a phone service every month and I can’t even answer my phone without being harassed.”
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, FTC, the Federal Communications Commission, various states and even Congress are trying to figure out ways to get a handle on these scam calls through lawsuits and legislation.
For now, both Swanton and Martinez are using their stories to warn people not to fall for these scams.
“If I could do it over I would hang up and I wouldn’t answer the phone or I would say if you are really who you say you are send me a letter in the mail and request my presence at your office,” Swanton said.
Meanwhile, Martinez warns people to never give out their personal information over the phone.
“I definitely have my radar up, but I am asking questions and definitely not giving any information,” she said.
To learn more about these fraudulent phone calls and what to do about them, go here.