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The Investigators: Crooks pose as government agency to scam Mid-Southerners

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 9:59 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Mid-South woman is out $15,000 scammed by someone posing as an employee of a government agency. And our scam trackers say they’re seeing this scheme play out a lot these days.

A Mississippi woman says just after Thanksgiving she was contacted by a friend on Facebook who said she’d just won some money.

The friend urged her to contact a person with the National Science Foundation.

“I said ‘I ain’t ever heard of that,” said the scam victim.

We spoke to the woman by phone but she asked us not to identify her because she’s embarrassed she lost $15,000 to a scam.

“Those folks just really made a fool outta me,” she said.

The “agent” said to send $5,000 to receive $150,000.

So the woman mailed the cast to a Hollywood address.

When her reward didn’t show, she was told the FedEx truck was involved in a fatal accident.

The agent asked her to send more money, $10,000 this time.

“I’m like, where’s am I gonna get all the money from? I barely got enough to take care of myself,” she said.

She borrowed the money from family and friends.

Then her friend said her Facebook page had been hacked and she’d never received any reward money.

“Oh my God, that’s when I realized right there,” said the victim.

The victim called the Mid-South Better Business Bureau.

In one month, the BBB received 15 reports from people who said they had been contacted by the National Science Foundation.

“They come up with official-sounding names or steal legitimate names,” said Randy Hutchinson, Mid-South BBB President.

He says the National Science Foundation is a real government grant agency but this is not how they operate and they are not part of these unsolicited offers.

“The government probably is not going to be calling you under any circumstances or contacting you on social media saying you’re eligible for a grant,” said Hutchinson. “Grants, there are generally processes you have to go through to apply to them yourself.

The Investigators asked, “Why do people fall victim to this type of scam in the pandemic?”

“The majority of people don’t fall for it but there’s been a lot of research that shows victims have suffered recent, life-changing events,” said Hutchinson. “These are people who already have financial problems or other problems. Then to get taken for even more.”

That’s what happened to the woman in Mississippi.

The victim’s report is now in the BBB’s online Scam Tracker tool where you can search by scam type or by region to find scams in your area.

Hutchinson says more than one scam was at play this time.

The Investigators asked, “She sent money to people in California with a real address. Do you think they had anything to do with it or that law enforcement would be able to track them down?”

“It could be that’s really the crook or people are being used as what’s called money mules,” said Hutchinson.

The FBI has warned of money mule scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Money mules are used when criminals obtain money illegally and have to find a way to move and his illicit funds.

“Generally if you send money, it’s gone,” said Hutchinson. “You’re not going to get it back.”

The Mid-South BBB received three government grant scam reports in January 2020 that came with an $800 loss.

The BBB has received 16 reports this year that came with a loss of more than $16,000! The BBB says the increase this year has a direct correlation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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