A St. Louis school nurse told the Better Business Bureau
(BBB) that she was terrorized for two days by men who called her home and work and demanded that she pay them thousands of dollars on an overdue loan.
By the time she realized she was being scammed, the nurse had given the thieves nearly $4,700. At various times during the ordeal, the men told her they had the power to have her arrested or fired from her job. They also threatened to send FBI agents to her home.
Even after learning that she had been tricked, the woman remained shaken and worried that the men somehow had the ability to put her in jail.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” she told the BBB.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the case comes on the heels of reports from other consumers who say they have been threatened and intimidated by anonymous callers to their homes.
Earlier this month, an elderly St. Louis resident said she had received phone calls from men who demanded that she go to a neighborhood pharmacy, load money onto a prepaid card and then transfer the cash to them. That woman said one caller told her that a sniper with a rifle was positioned across from her home. Another told her that unless she cooperated her home would be set on fire.
Each time, she hung up on the callers and did not comply with their demands.
In another case, a caller using a phone number with a California area code phoned a St. Louis area family asking for access to their computer. When the wife told the caller her family did not have a computer, the caller threatened to “come to your house tonight” and “do something.” The husband said his wife and children were frightened the caller might carry out the threat.
In all of the cases, the BBB believes the calls came from outside the U.S.
“These reports are chilling,” Corey said. “There is a very real concern that scammers are becoming increasingly aggressive. They may feel that if the old cons are not working, they have to ratchet up their threats.”
The school nurse said she had filled out an online application for a payday loan in late October or early November and was inundated almost immediately with phone calls and emails about loan offers. She said she believes that the scammers somehow used that application to obtain her home and work phone numbers.
The scammers told her that they worked for a California law firm and were trying to collect past due debts. The nurse said she knew that she had taken out loans in the past, but thought she was current on them.
The first caller threatened her with arrest on a series of criminal charges and demanded that she go to a local department store and load $695 onto a Green Dot MoneyPak card, a type of prepaid card. Immediately after she left the store, the man called her again and demanded the card’s Personal Identification Number (PIN) so he could take control of the cash.
The next day, she spoke by phone with another man, who also said he represented the law firm. That man said the first man had not been authorized to settle on the debt and told her she would have to give the law firm an additional $4,000. When she hesitated, he told her that police would be at her work that same day to arrest her.
She said the man kept her on her cell phone for more than an hour as she got a $4,000 loan from an associate, drove to her bank to cash the check and then went to a pharmacy to buy additional reloadable cards.
At one point, the man instructed her on how to respond to a store clerk in the event the clerk asked her why she was buying eight Vanilla Reload Network cards and loading them with $500 cash each.
“He said to tell them I was on the phone with my brother,” she said.
She said the store clerk never asked her about the purchase and she found nothing on the card or at the card display that would hint she was being scammed.
Once she was out of the store, the caller once again asked her for the PIN numbers and used them to strip the money from the Vanilla reloadable cards.
The next day, the thieves contacted the woman again, demanding another $11,000. She contacted the BBB and learned she had been scammed. On her final call to the scammers, they told her they were sending the FBI to her door.
The nurse said she paid the scammers out of fear that she would be arrested and lose her job.
The BBB offers the following tips to persons contacted about past-due debts:
- Know your rights. Under federal and state law, debt collectors are prohibited from using threats of violence or harm against a person, property or reputation. They cannot threaten to garnish your wages unless they intend to do so, and they cannot harass you.
- Ask for written proof of your debt. By law, a debt collection agency must provide you with a valid notice within five days of contacting you about the debt.
- Tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. Under federal law, a debt collector cannot continue to contact you – at work or home – once you have told them in writing to stop.
- Understand that you cannot be jailed simply for nonpayment of a debt.
- If you have a complaint, you should contact your state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or the BBB.