Lake County resident nearly lost $20,000 cash in the mail: How to help loved ones avoid that scam

  • This envelope full of $20,000 in cash was nearly stolen from an elderly Lake County resident by a scammer.

    This envelope full of $20,000 in cash was nearly stolen from an elderly Lake County resident by a scammer. courtesy of Lake County Sheriff's Office

  • At the urging of a phone scammer, a Lake County resident withdrew $20,000 in cash, pictured here, and had already sent it along before realizing the con and working with authorities to recover the money.

    At the urging of a phone scammer, a Lake County resident withdrew $20,000 in cash, pictured here, and had already sent it along before realizing the con and working with authorities to recover the money. courtesy of Lake County Sheriff's Office

 
 
Updated 5/18/2022 7:14 PM

A Lake County resident nearly became one of the thousands of elderly people to lose money to phone and internet scammers this month.

The person sent $20,000 in cash away in a package but soon realized it was a con.

 

Each year, scammers preying on the elderly across the country through phone and internet fraud take billions of dollars from their marks.

But this story has an unlikely and happy outcome.

Lake County sheriff's Deputy Trish List said she has spoken to dozens of seniors over the years who realized too late the person on the phone who instructed them to send cash in the mail was conning them.

"These scammers are so creative in how they bamboozle people out of their money it just breaks my heart," List said.

List attended one such phone call this month with an elderly Lake County resident who had been instructed to hide $20,000 in the pages of a book and post it using UPS.

It's an all too familiar story List has heard before.

But there was one major difference. This time, the victim realized what had happened quickly enough for List to help recover the money.

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List said she and the victim, who did not want to be interviewed or identified for this story, rushed to the store where the victim had sent the package and were able to flag it and make sure it wasn't delivered.

After five days the package was returned to the store and List went with the victim to recover the money.

Stories like this where the victims get their money back are rare, and experts say the best way to prevent older adults from falling for such ploys is by sharing information about how phone and internet scams work.

List said she often will send people a link to a video made by Mark Rober, a NASA engineer turned YouTube star, about how scammers prey on their victims' emotions and vulnerabilities to persuade, bully and swindle them into following their instructions.

In one version of the scheme, the scammer will claim there is an issue with an intended victim's bank account and persuade the person to download a program that allows remote access to the victim's computer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Once the scammer has access to the victim's bank account, the scammer can make it seem like the victim accidentally has been given a large sum of money, usually by manipulating the website code.

The scammer then plays on the victim's emotions by pretending the scammer will be fired for accidentally giving the person a bunch of money that they are unable to retrieve.

"The things they come up with are just mind-blowing," List said of scammers' tactics.

Once the scammer has persuaded the person to "help," the victim is instructed to withdraw cash from the bank, hide it in a package and overnight it to an address, usually somewhere the scammer has paid someone to wait nearby to retrieve it. Scammers doesn't give away their own actual addresses, experts say.

List said the victim she helped this month was duped in a similar way. She said the actual bank teller noted the victim was withdrawing a lot of money and asked to whom it was being sent.

List said the scammer had convinced the victim it was the victim's fault, so the victim dismissed the teller's concerns.

The best way to help older adults avoid being victims is by speaking to them about the scope of the problem, something List knows firsthand. She said she was at her parents' house and overheard her father on the phone with someone trying to scam him.

"It made me realize anyone can be a victim," List said. "The only way to improve it is for people to talk about it."

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