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.
It's just a simple phone call that's very believable. And hundreds have been duped in a scam that has raked in more than two-thirds of a million dollars.
It was a phone call Joe Milbauer wishes he hadn't answered.
"The best thing would have been to hang up, but I didn't."
He 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 caller sounded legitimate. If Milbauer had a question, they had an answer ready.
"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," US Postal Inspector Mona Hernandez said.
Postal inspectors say the five women arrested in this case told Milbauer and others they needed immediate payment by credit card or they would lose their phone service.
It was a scam.
Milbauer's credit card number and personal information were stolen.
But he wasn't alone. More than 200 people were duped, many of them elderly. The total amount ripped off: $670,000.
"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," Hernandez said.
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," Hernandez said.
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Milbauer 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," Milbauer said. "And trust that instinct, because you don't know who is on the other end of the call."
The important thing to remember: Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
If a company calls you saying there is a problem with your account, ask for a phone number to call them back.
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