(NBC) - Imagine you're a senior, you've just lost your spouse after decades of marriage. You're emotional and vulnerable. Then you get a call from the credit card company asking what you want to do about your spouse's credit card. All you have to do, the caller says, is verify the credit card information, and they'll take care of the rest. But it turns out the caller is actually a scammer, trying to get the credit card information to go on shopping spree. Is there anything you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
The calls began like this:
Caller: Yes, may I speak with Mrs. _______. Please?"
Widow: "This is she."
Caller: "This is Brian from Discover Card."
"Brian" from discover was really an inmate in an Indiana jail doing
time for theft, burglary and forgery. He told the widow he was calling about her deceased husband.
Brian: "Well we show by social security that he's passed away, is that correct?"
Widow: "That's right."
Brian: "Okay, well what would you like to do with his Discover Card account?"
Widow: "Well just close up the account and send me a new card."
Brian: "Well no, we can um, just have you keep the same card that you have okay?"
Widow: "Ah huh."
Brian: "We just have to have you verify some information so we can move his name off."
Once they had those credit card numbers, authorities say the criminals used them to buy over $80,000 worth of iPods, refrigerators, flat screen TV's, and even lawn tractors.
In South Bend, Indiana, Detective Dominic Zultanski was assigned to investigate. He didn't have to look far to find the ring leader because he was right next door to the police station in the St. Joseph County Jail.
Zultanski asked the jail to give him recordings of phone calls the suspect made. Those recordings were a treasure trove of evidence. Zultanski quickly determined that Melvin Fagan was running the show. Detective dominic zultanski: he specifically targeted elderly people,
usually over the age of 65 that had been married for a long period of time and their loved one had just recently died of a long term illness.
Brian: "Do you happen to have your card?"
Widow: "Yes sir."
Brian: "Okay. The number should begin with 6011."
Brian: "I need you to read me the next 12 digits."
It was easy for the scammer to know that the first four digits were 6011. All Discover Cards begins with those four digits. All Visa cards begin with the number 4, all MasterCards start with 5, and all American Express cards begins with the number 3.
In total, 47 co-conspirators were identified. 16 were sentenced and at least 7 remain in prison. Fagan pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the government.
Zultanski says the lesson for consumers is if someone is calling you cold, unsolicited phone calls. Don't worry about being rude - hang up the phone. Call the police. If they said they are calling from a credit card company, then ask them which credit card company, then hang up. Look in the phone book, look online, look up published numbers of that credit card company and call them. If they have no idea why you called, chances are you just stopped someone from scamming you.
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