The next time you get a call from someone claiming to be your phone company, your bank or any other business you deal with, don't assume they are who they say they are.
Hundreds have already been duped in a scam that's raked in almost three quarters of a million dollars.
Joe Milbauer says, "The best thing would have been to hang up, but I didn't."
Instead, Joe stayed on the line thinking the woman calling was from AT&T.
"They established a sense of urgency that I needed to do something right away or my phone was going to be turned off."
The callers sounded legitimate. If Milbauer had a question, they had an answer ready.
Postal Inspector Mona Hernandez says, "If the victims questioned the call and wanted to speak to a supervisor, they would put the victim on hold - play AT&T background music and hand off the phone to another suspect playing the role of the supervisor."
U.S. Postal Inspectors say the five women arrested in this case told Milbauer and others they needed to immediately make a payment by credit card or lose their phone service. It was a scam. Milbauer's credit card number and personal information were stolen. And he wasn't alone. More than 200 people were duped, many of them elderly. Total amount ripped off: $670,000.
Hernandez says, "They were completely living off the victims, from paying their utility bills to their lease apartment bills, they purchased vehicles, furniture, everything that was in their apartment was using money from victims."
Citigroup Fraud Investigators were the first to suspect a scam. They tipped off postal inspectors, who learned the suspects were using the personal information they had stolen to order "new" credit cards..
"We followed the credit cards and after about two weeks we were able to intercept 23 fraudulent credit cards going to two different locations."
As for Joe Milbauer, he was able to recover his losses. He says he learned a valuable lesson in the process.
"I would say… especially after this experience… my trust level of someone who reaches out to me is very low and trust that instinct because you don't know who is on the other end of the call."
The five suspects in this case pleaded guilty. The important thing to remember, never give out personal information over the phone unless "you" initiate the call.
If a company calls you saying there is a problem with your account, ask for a number and call them back.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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