ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – An Atlanta man claims he was conned out of $1,500 after a scammer pretended to hold his mother hostage over the phone and threatened to kill her.
Blake Smith received one of the scariest phone calls last Friday while working from home. His caller ID showed his mother, Susan, was calling but when he picked up the phone, all he heard was a woman crying hysterically.
“At one point my hands were shaking,” Blake recalled. “I thought this was a real situation. I was asking her, ‘Mom, talk to me! What’s going on,’ The next thing I heard was a man’s voice who I did not recognize at all.”
Blake said the man told him to Venmo $1,500 or else he would kill Susan. He also warned Blake not to contact police because he was willing to die too. Blake said anytime there was silence on the phone, the scammer made it seem like he was hurting Susan.
“The sounds in the background would get louder,” Blake recalled. “He told me, ‘If you stall, if you call the cops, bad things are going to happen.’ The emotional manipulation is what caused me to believe it and, again, I didn’t have much time to think about it. Everything was happening so fast.”
The scammer, whose name appeared as Tim Joiner on Venmo, hung up after he received confirmation of Blake’s payment. Susan had no idea what her son was talking about when he called, but she said he sounded distraught.
“I couldn’t recognize his voice,” she said. “He was so emotionally distraught. I thought he was dying and that he was calling to say goodbye. That’s how emotional he was in the beginning. It was very traumatic, emotionally for him, and it was very traumatic for me listening to how traumatized he appeared to be.”
The Smiths believe Blake may have been a victim of caller ID spoofing. It’s when a caller deliberately falsifies information on your caller id display to hide their real identity, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Blake filed a police report with the Atlanta Police Department.
“It could’ve happened to anybody and, according to police we spoke to, it’s not isolated, so it is happening out there,” Susan said.
A spokesperson with Venmo sent the following statement to CBS46:
“The security and privacy of all Venmo users and their information has always been a top company priority. We proactively use sophisticated fraud detection tools and manual investigations, as well as work closely with law enforcement agencies to mitigate potential issues and help our customers. We encourage customers who suspect they are the target of a scam or have had an unauthorized transaction to contact Customer Service directly.”
FCC tips on how to avoid spoofing:
- You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be extremely careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information.
- Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
- If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
- Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes” or “No.”
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
- Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device. The FCC allows phone companies to block robocalls by default based on reasonable analytics. More information about robocall blocking is available at fcc.gov/robocalls.
“Never believe the caller ID,” said Carrie Kerskie, a cyber security expert. “When in doubt, send a text to the person to validate while you are on the call.”
Venmo refunded Blake his money, following our inquiry on Monday.
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