Jun 9, 2014 12:42 AM by Matthew Schwartz
Tucson - Rhiannon McMahon works three jobs to pay back college loans and her other bills. Imagine how the 30-year-old Flowing Wells resident felt when she received a phone call recently from a guy who told her she had been approved for a loan of up to $7,000.
"I was excited," she told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "I would be able to pay off some debt."
But the "loan" from a company the caller identified as "Loan Easy USA" came with a catch: Rhiannon had to pay $180.00 upfront (which the guy told her would be her monthly payment on the loan), for a pre-paid re-load card from Walgreens, then call the "lender" with the code number on the back of the card. She did both.
She said, "They contacted me back and said because my credit was so low, I had to pay an additional $157.00 to bring my credit up just enough for them to deposit the money in my account."
So Rhiannon went back to Walgreens and paid all she could afford, another $140.00, for another pre-paid card. With card fees, she spent about $330.00.
"Nothing was deposited into my account," Rhiannon told us. "I made several phone calls back to the number they contacted me from and it went straight to their voice mail, no answering, no answering."
They took Rhiannon's phone calls until they took her money. So the News 4 Tucson Investigators called the number she gave us. A man with a heavy foreign accent answered (Rhiannon said the guy who called her also had an accent). When we identified ourselves, he hung up.
Although the phone number we called had a San Francisco area code of 415, scammers use Internet technology to disguise their real phone number, which is known as "spoofing."
Nick LaFluer of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "It's a big problem, especially in recent weeks. We've received a number of phone calls, including people who've fallen for this scam, who've been ripped-off."
The Federal Trade Commission says there are several red flags regarding phone calls from someone offering loans or government grants:
-It is illegal for companies doing business by phone in the U.S. to promise you a loan and ask you to pay for it before they deliver
-Legitimate lenders don't ask anyone to wire money
-A real government agency won't ask you to pay a processing fee.
Also, grants are not just given out over the phone. They require an application and other paperwork..
Another Flowing Wells resident, Chris Scott, didn't fall for it when a man (also with a heavy foreign accent) called last week, saying he's from "United States Government Grants." He told the 57 year-old retiree that he's eligible for a $9,000 grant.
"And I'm thinking, ‘Boy, this must be a scam", Scott told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.
We had Scott call the number back when we were at his house, and to ask for the caller's address. When the man first contacted Scott, his caller ID came up with a 616 area code, which is in Michigan. When Scott called the number while we were there, he asked for the guy's address. He said it is 200 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. That's the address of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
LaFluer of the BBB of Southern Arizona advises, "If you get one of these calls, tell them ‘I know this is a scam. Don't call here again.' Hang up the phone."
We asked Rhiannon McMahon, "If you could ever talk to the person who did this to you, what would you say?" She replied, "You're disgusting. I pray for you. That's what I would say."
If you get a phone call from someone offering a loan or grant, you can file complaints with several agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, at https://ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1. Or email email@example.com.
It's difficult for law enforcement to find these scammers, because they say many if not most of them are in foreign countries using temporary phone numbers.
If you have a story you'd like us to check out, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.