Couple loses $27,000 due to pageant scam

Courtesy of victim’s nephew

After a criminal told a 73-year-old Illinois man to buy eBay gift cards, the victim ended up mostly with these worthless pieces of plastic since he gave the crook the codes to redeem them. The victim received an eBay credit of about $300 because the numbers on a card, his nephew assumes, were not relayed correctly.

Kicked out of the credit union

It turned out the credit union kicked the couple out because scammers sent them four checks totaling $27,700, supposedly to cover the money they spent. The personal checks were from a credit union in Louisiana, but were mailed from Michigan.

Three of the Louisiana checks bounced — one for $8,700 and two for $5,000 — and the Illinois credit union refused to accept the fourth, the nephew said.

Forged signatures

Contacted in Louisiana and showing copies of the checks, the supposed signer’s wife told AARP that the documents were forged. Her husband, in his 80s and living with dementia, has struggled with identity theft and bank fraud since losing his wallet some time ago, she said. “In no way shape or form” check signatures are his.

What happened next sent the nephew’s anxiety through the roof. After his aunt and uncle opened a checking account at a new bank, he overheard his uncle on the phone giving the new routing and account numbers to a scammer. These are numbers that consumers should protect, but the uncle still seemed hopeful for the bargain that hung before him.

“We were in a crisis situation,” says the nephew, who canceled the new account. “I am convinced that if someone did not help them, they would now be homeless.”

Here are the 10 steps he followed:

1. Spent hours sorting through bills, junk mail and papers collected from them to try to piece together what had happened.

2. Assembled YouTube clips depicting how older Americans get ripped off, so her aunt and uncle could figure out the subterfuge. A 2013 series from Dan Rather Reports titled “Just Hang Up” was compelling, the nephew says. Doug Shadel, a seasoned fraud fighter and Washington State Director of AARP, was among those interviewed on the show.

3. Financial power of attorney obtained.

4. Frozen their credit so that new accounts or loans cannot be taken out in their name.

5. Contacted the gift card companies involved to report the fraud. He was able to recover about $300 from eBay and about $200 from Visa Vanilla. The nephew assumes that more often than not the uncle gave the gift card redemption codes, but sometimes he failed and left balances on the cards.

6. Worked the phones. He installed a call blocker on the couple’s landline to prevent incoming calls from Jamaica, where some of the fraudulent calls originated. When the scammers persisted and called his aunt on her new cell phone, the nephew got a new number online from his phone service provider.

seven. He told his aunt and uncle to each use only one credit card with a low spending limit for daily needs. The nephew keeps another of their cards and his cell phone to monitor their finances and pay their monthly bills.

8. Installation of a doorbell camera.

9. Set up informed delivery with the US Postal Service. The service gives consumers a digital preview of letter-sized mail due to arrive and tracks incoming packages, and the nephew keeps a close eye on what’s coming.

ten. The couple signed up for, which allows consumers to opt out of unwanted catalogs and offers for credit, magazines and more. Service for 10 years costs $2.

Today, the nephew often speaks of the couple’s months-long ordeal in the hope that others will be spared. He thinks that even though his uncle never won the contest, his luck never ran out. “Lucky that I was there,” said the nephew. “The luck that they trusted me and the luck that I was able to attack from a technical front to stop the calls, monitor the money and help without taking away their independence.”