A scam artist living in Montreal, Canada, pretended to be an eastern Lincoln County couple’s family friend in order to swindle them out of more than $6,000 last month, deputies said.
As a result, the Sheriff’s Office administered an agency press release late last week, warning residents, particularly senior citizens, of the new nationwide phone scam dubbed “Relative or Friend in Distress.”
The couple first received a call from the scammer on July 24, the release said. The man claimed he had been in an accident and needed money to bail him out of a Florida jail for a crash in which officers charged him with DWI.
His so-called “lawyer” contacted the couple a short time later that day, asking for nearly $3,000, the release said.
In addition, one of the scammers convinced the couple to send the money through Wal-Mart since Western Union initially refused to wire the significant funds, according to deputies.
The following day, the scam artist begged the couple to send $4,000 to cover medical bills for both him and another wreck victim, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Nearly a week after the scammers first called, they told the Lincoln County residents to wire additional funds since “they didn’t get the money picked up on time,” the release said.
The couple realized the calls were part of a defrauding effort after Western Union confirmed the funds arrived on time. The couple spoke with the friend they thought they had been helping for a week and learned he’d never gone to Florida or contacted them, deputies said. Det. Don Mauldin also traced the fraudulent calls to a Canadian cellphone.
In the end, the scammers conned the couple out of a total of $6,800, deputies said.
Sheriff David Carpenter advised residents in the release that money should never be wired or mailed to someone “without a verifiable, legitimate reason,” especially if the caller can’t be positively identified.
He recommended individuals who think scam artists are targeting them to end the call and immediately contact local law enforcement.
In addition, residents can put their contact information on a “Do Not Call” list to cut back, but not completely eliminate, the potential for fake calls.