Scammers know how to build trust; victim wants to warn others

Nov 28, 2023, 10:28 PM | Updated: 11:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — It was Halloween night, the perfect storm for a sinister plot to unfold.

Jessica Turner, a mother in the midst of Halloween preparations, found herself entangled in a web of deception that would leave her financial world shattered.

“First of all, it showed up on my phone as Mountain America,” Turner recalls as she reflects on the phone call that would change everything. A seemingly innocent call, timed right at dinner, turned out to be the beginning of a nightmare.

Caller ID, a feature many rely on for identifying incoming calls, proved to be a weak link. Rob Woellhaf, the fraud management vice president with Mountain America, highlights the vulnerability of caller ID, stating unequivocally, “Caller ID can be spoofed.”

The imposter scammer had successfully exploited this vulnerability to trick Turner. The deception didn’t end there. The friendly voice on the other end of the line proceeded to offer advice about current scams, creating a facade of helpfulness.

“He proceeds to give me advice about current scams going on,” Turner said, at the time, appreciating the tips provided. In the chaos of Halloween night, with children eager to head out for trick-or-treating, Turner felt a sense of urgency to end the call but, also, a sense of legitimacy.

“They kind of lulled me into a sense of comfort like this is a normal process,” she said, highlighting how the imposter skillfully manipulated her perception of the situation.

Adding another layer to the deception, the imposter knew personal details, even using Turner’s husband’s nickname. The voice sounded authentic, convincing Turner that she was talking to a real agent.

“It sounded like a real agent would talk,” she said, unknowingly falling deeper into the trap laid out by the scammer. By the time the imposter requested pin numbers and passwords, trust had been established.

“It’s everywhere. And the thing that’s really insidious about it is that it can manifest itself in so many different ways,” Woellhaf said. Trust, he emphasizes, has become the scammers’ new tool to exploit hard-earned money.

The advice from the fraud management vice president is clear: when in doubt, hang up. Call your financial institution directly or visit your branch.

“They’re asking instead of giving. That’s where you need to hang up,” Woellhaf said.

Nov 1 dawned with a sense of dread for Turner. The pit in her stomach was justified.

“Twenty five thousand dollars that they just snatched. It’s terrible,” she said. Their credit card was maxed out; bank accounts drained – a devastating consequence of misplaced trust.

“I think it’s embarrassing, and it’s humiliating, and you feel like an idiot, to be honest with you,” Turner said. However, she sees sharing her story to help others. Silence, she believes, only allows scammers to evade justice on a whole new level.

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Scammers know how to build trust; victim wants to warn others