When a charitable stranger on Twitter offered to pay off disabled retiree Roderick Boyd’s bills, it didn’t immediately trigger any red flags.
“This was a totally new approach for me. I’d never heard of anybody defrauding people by paying their bills,” Boyd, 62, recalled.
Instead, it appeared to signal that things might turn around for the West Jordan man, who had sustained a foot injury early last year and lost half his foot. Living on just $794 a month from Supplemental Social Security, which goes to those with disabilities, Boyd said he’d been trying to get out of debt and improve his credit score so he could buy a small, inexpensive home.
“I spent all last year going in and out of surgeries. This is part of the reason why my guard was down, because at that time, I had not gotten bills. And I was expecting to get six figures in bills. Luckily, insurance covered it. But that left me, I guess, the term would be vulnerable,” he said.
The Twitter user gave Boyd a bank account number to use to pay off his debt. In return, Boyd was asked to buy gift cards and send them to a phone number.
“As soon as I made a payment on my main credit card, it was counted as paid. My credit was opened, and they asked me to go and buy some gift cards for children and in return, they would give me a bigger boost, several thousand dollars,” Boyd said.
He went through the steps and, at first, it appeared to work. But then the payment from the other Twitter user got canceled, leaving Boyd several hundred more dollars in debt — to him, a massive loss that he believes will irreparably damage his credit. He has established a GoFundMe account to help him recover financially.
“All I know is financially, it hurt me. I’ve had to shut down all of my accounts, I’ve had to change my password everywhere, I’ve had to change my PIN number, and I doubt that I will ever get my credit rating back up again,” Boyd said.
His advice to others?
“If somebody tells you they’re going to pay your bills, take that with a grain of salt,” he said, urging other senior citizens to be wary of being too trusting online.
Boyd reported the case to West Jordan police, who asked Twitter to gather all subscriber information from the scam account, as well as messages between the account and Boyd as evidence, according to a search warrant. As of Monday, the scam account had been suspended.
West Jordan police officer Jennifer Worthen said the case was transferred to the Federal Trade Commission, as it was determined the fraudulent account belonged to someone in another country.
Other scams becoming more common
Local police have also worked with people who have fallen victim to “sextortion” scams, Worthen said. Scammers, under the guise of a romantic relationship, often use social media to get intimate photos of a victim and then threaten to share the photos if the victim doesn’t pay.
The Orem Police Department recently issued a search warrant to Snap Inc., the company that owns the popular app Snapchat, after a young woman met and shared intimate photos and video with someone she eventually determined was “catfishing” her — pretending to be someone else. The scammer then threatened to distribute those images if she didn’t continue sending him photos or videos whenever he requested, police wrote in the search warrant.
“It was always over Snapchat and the suspect always threatened to send the content to her friends or family if she didn’t continue. She felt she had no choice and was too ashamed and frightened to tell anyone about it or report it to police,” investigators wrote in the warrant.
Police requested data that could potentially identify the scammer and the messaging history between the scammer and victim.
In a social media post, the Orem police described several additional new scams that they have recently investigated.
Housing market scam
One man was searching for a home to rent with friends when he responded to an online ad. The supposed rental manager requested $3,000 for the deposit, as well as the first and last month’s rent, and said the keys would then be mailed to him.
The man paid the fee using two payment apps — Venmo and Zelle. But Orem police said the ad was fake, with information stolen from a real home listing.
“Never send money to strangers for anything other than through protected means (PayPal Goods & Services),” Orem police said in a social media post.
Social Security stolen-ID scam
In another scam, a woman received a call claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, which told her her identity had been stolen. The caller said she needed to “verify her assets by depositing her bank account funds into a secure government account,” according to Orem police.
The scammers “spoofed” the police department’s phone number — a process through which scammers can change their caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from someone else, police said. The woman thought she was speaking to an officer who confirmed the situation, and she deposited $4,000 into a Bitcoin machine at the scammer’s instructions. Police said that money is irretrievable.
Ship captain scam
Another woman met a person who claimed to be a ship captain online and began a romantic relationship with him. “She never heard his voice because if he used his cell while out to sea, pirates would be able to triangulate his position,” police said. After sending the man $35,000 over six months, as he said he was trying to get back to the U.S. to marry her, she became suspicious. An Orem detective performed a reverse image search on the man’s photo and discovered it had been stolen.
Anytime someone online or over the phone contacts you asking for money, “it is likely always a scam,” Orem police said.
“If you think it’s legit, you may want to do some serious research before sending the funds. It’s your money at stake! The ruse could include the police about an unpaid ticket or warrant, the IRS for back taxes, a (Facebook) friend for a grant opportunity, an online account that was compromised, a seller who will ship the item to you, a refund because they paid you too much, or any reason at all,” police said, urging residents to only send money to family members or friends who they “personally know.”
Worthen said her department gets an average of five scam reports each day. Elderly people tend to be most susceptible to scams, she said.
The police officer warned residents of a scam that has become increasingly common, in which a caller pretends to belong to law enforcement and tells a potential victim there’s a warrant out for their arrest and they need to pay police immediately.
“And obviously, they usually call and check to see if they have a warrant, and they don’t believe they do,” Worthen said.
Financial institutions, the Social Security Administration, law enforcement and other agencies do not call directly to request personal or financial information from residents, according to Worthen. Instead, those agencies and businesses will send letters and ask that recipients call their direct line.
The Federal Trade Commission notes that scammers often try to create pressure for victims to act immediately. That can include threatening to sue you, deport you, or take away your driver’s license. The commission urges people to “resist the pressure to act immediately” when faced with a potential scam, and to talk to someone you trust about the situation before acting.
Most scam cases, even when reported to local police, ultimately go to the FTC, Worthen sad. She urges those who encounter scams to report them at identitytheft.gov.