Internet schemes defraud $40K from Spencer woman

Saturday, November 3, 2012
Spencer police have collected a vast amount of evidence in connection to a number of Internet-based scams that defrauded a Spencer woman out of nearly $40,000. A bogus letter from the Department of Defense, several wire transfer receipts and credit cards -- that continue to appear in the victim's mailbox -- are among the pieces of evidence. (Photo by Gabe Licht)

Police chief hopes others learn from the situation

When law enforcement officials in Michigan contacted Spencer Police Chief Mark Lawson on Oct. 12 about potential fraud in the area, it did not take long for the local department to determine a Spencer woman was the victim, not the suspect.

"They sent us the information and we tracked it," Lawson said. "We obtained a search warrant and paid a visit to this person, looking for electronic equipment, tablets and laptops that had been fraudulently purchased. We realized fairly quickly the person here was the victim, not the suspect."

Nearly all purchased items had been shipped away, leaving only two small items - which the woman was told were gifts - to be seized by police.

Lawson explained that the woman, in her late 60s, was befriended online, received flowers and candy and agreed to send $300 "for a medical bill for his son at college in Malaysia, saying she'll be repaid when he gets his next paycheck."

Following that request, she was asked to purchase iPods, iPads, digital cameras and laptops.

"He says he will send a credit card to her with her name on it and tells her, 'Don't worry about the bill,'" Lawson said.

Purchases were made until the credit card was maxed out at $20,000, and the purchases were shipped using mailing labels that showed up at her house. Her work was rewarded with two small item purchases for herself.

"She then gets an email contact allegedly from the FBI asking for her assistance in catching the same person she's doing the credit card thing with," Lawson said. "During the course of a few days, she's convinced to send thousands of dollars to the FBI agent with the promise she will be reimbursed once they apprehend the suspects."

As if these scams weren't enough, the woman was defrauded twice more.

"Again, she is contacted by someone using a different name asking for her to sponsor people out of a developing country to come to America," Lawson said. "This tugs on her heartstrings more, so she ponies up several thousands of dollars and sends it through Western Union. The final hit is to pay for a soldier's military leave, which does not happen. But, she receives colorful, official-looking mail, believes it and sends money."

At one point, an individual who handled a Western Union transfer refused to send the money, but caved after some deliberation.

"A family member also caught wind of this and confronted her, saying, 'You're being victimized,' but just stopped at that," Lawson said.

Now, the individual is on the hook for $20,000 in credit card charges, plus $18,000 she borrowed from her life insurance policy and 401k fund, which she wired for the various "causes."

When the victim was contacted by law enforcement about the scam, "her whole world came crashing down," Lawson said.

Since then, the department has had open communication with the victim and her bank.

Her cell phone number has been changed, her land line phone is being disconnected, her email has been removed from the dating website that connected her to the scammer and her address has been flagged with the credit card company, though fraudulent cards continue to appear in the mail. The department has also sent a subpoena to officials at the website involved, but chances of recovering any of the funds are nearly nonexistent because Malaysia is a non-extradition country.

"She's informed some of her family about this mess, but it's too little too late," Lawson said. " ... Her nightmares are just beginning. We're hoping we've limited collateral damage."

It's not too late for others to learn from the situation, though, he insisted.

"People were seeing red flags, but the victim refused to take heed," Lawson said. "We need to reiterate you need to look out for each other."

"I don't want to embarrass this person," he continued. "This just needs to be a teaching experience."

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  • This must be an example of that taking personal responsibility the Teaboogers promote huh? Wait'll they privitize our utilities. Your gonna love that.

    -- Posted by Doctlby on Sat, Nov 3, 2012, at 10:52 AM
  • this kind of stupidity has been around for years---its just easier on line now. I don't feel one bit sorry for the woman. The politicians have absolutely nothing to do with this. try to explain this sort of stuff to older people that don't want to listen!they deserve what they get!

    -- Posted by iowagirl on Sat, Nov 3, 2012, at 4:47 PM
  • Really iowagirl? LOL!

    I hope you never get old, and perhaps old and don't have the same mental capacity you so clearly believe you do at this time. Judging by your response, you're a front of the line candidate for this type of thing in the future.

    I'm as far away from a Bleeding Heart as you could possibly get, but I do feel sorry for people that don't have the mental capacity to understand they're being taken advantage of, usually while doing something they feel is a good deed. Like voting for Obama for instance......

    -- Posted by Dick Butkus on Sun, Nov 4, 2012, at 9:46 AM
  • These scammers need to be found-and they can be found no matter what country they're in-and they need to be beaten severely and put in jail and lose everything they have to pay back the people they scammed. That is a deterance that might work. That might sound severe but how long do we have to be taken advantage of before we've had enough. There's a lot of "legal" scammers that deserve the same.

    -- Posted by trybeinghonest on Sun, Nov 4, 2012, at 10:51 AM
  • @iowagirl - I typically blame the criminal, not the victim.

    -- Posted by Sony on Sun, Nov 4, 2012, at 11:44 AM
  • @iowagirl...I can't help feeling that this is a case of a very lonely person who was hoping she found a friend. It would be easy to be in denial when you thought you could trust someone. I feel very bad that she was victimized by someone who is probably very good at deceiving people. I only wish I had the means to help her out. May God bless her.

    -- Posted by stillpositive on Sun, Nov 4, 2012, at 8:00 PM
  • Easy solution, have no credit or cash.

    That's the path the GOP has put the middle class on for 30+ years and Mitt will put on steriods.

    -- Posted by helped_myself on Mon, Nov 5, 2012, at 12:26 PM
  • Nobody forced credit on anyone.

    -- Posted by clayfarmer on Mon, Nov 5, 2012, at 2:06 PM
  • Holy cow. This could so happen to my elderly parent. I swear my parent believes absolutely everything that they read on the internet and absolutely won't listen to anyone.

    -- Posted by Molly Weasley on Tue, Nov 6, 2012, at 3:14 PM
  • A victim being naive does not excuse the crime. I do have sympathy for naive people who get "taken" by these parasites! They are scum and need to be brought to justice.

    -- Posted by brian48 on Wed, Nov 7, 2012, at 4:13 AM
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