Thursday, June 13, 2024

“Don’t hang up” and other phone scams to watch out for

Several phone and text message scams have been “making the rounds” in the Guadalajara area in 2022, many of which came to my attention via personal reports from some of the victims.

I decided that as we go into a new year, a rundown on these sorts of scams might help readers avoid them in 2023. 

The names in these stories have been changed to protect the innocent…

“Don’t hang up!” 

María, a maid, was alone in the house when she got a telephone call from someone asking for Peter, the owner of the place. She replied,”he’s not here.” Then the caller said, “Okay, let me talk to Linda (Peter’s wife).” 

“She’s not here either,” said María.

Note that the caller knew in advance the names of the house owners and has now determined that neither one is at home at the moment.

Next, the caller said, “I’m trying to reach either one of them to tell them that before 1 p.m. today, they have to pay the interest they owe on a loan they took out. If they don’t pay it, the interest is going to go way up! So they need to make a deposit right now.”

“But they’re not here,” repeated María.

“Wait a minute,” said the caller. “La señora Linda is calling me right now.”

After a pause, the caller said: “I have her on the phone, and she says, por favor, look around in the office and in the bedroom for any money you can find so you can go make the deposit. Look in all the drawers because she doesn’t remember exactly where she put it.”

So the maid, trying to be helpful, went hunting in the office and the bedroom and found nothing.

Next, the scammer told her to look in the drawers in the bathroom.

Very quickly, the maid found 11,000 pesos. Then the caller said, “Now you need to take this money down to the Oxxo and I’ll give you the number of my account so you can deposit it.”

She replied. “Okay, I’m going to hang up the phone and go down to the Oxxo.”

“No! No! No!” reacted the caller. “No te cuelgues, (Don’t hang up!).”

Note that this phrase is the key for assuring the success of this scam, isolating the domestic helper from talking to anyone else.

The maid walked to the Oxxo. Once she was inside, the caller said: “Let me talk to the Oxxo clerk. I’m going to have to give her a different account number for the deposit.”

This final twist makes sure the victims of the scam don’t know the number of the account the money disappears into.

When the victims reported this scam to the authorities, they learned that many others have been defrauded in the same way and that a modified version of the scam is used to spirit away jewelry, sometimes worth millions of pesos.

All the scammers need to make this work is the names of family members and the approximate location of cash or jewelry, all of which might be gleaned from talkative domestic help or former help. 

The key to escaping unscathed from this type of scam: Whenever you hear the words “No cuelgues,” you should hang up immediately! And then start checking the facts of what you’ve been told.

“There’s an accident down the street”

This scam happened to a woman who lives with her daughter. When the daughter is at work, the mother is alone in the house.

One day a young man knocked at the door and, apparently stressed, told the mother that her daughter had had an accident just a few blocks down the street, “and she sent me here to ask you to come help her.”

So the woman locked her door and ran down the street.

As soon as she was out of sight, a group of burglars — knowing that the house was empty — broke in and made off with the TV, computer and other valuables.

Hindsight suggests that before leaving the house, the victim should have picked up the phone and called her daughter’s number. A person in panic would not ordinarily do this, but perhaps you, after reading this true case, might!

“Did you make this purchase?”

Jorge got a call, supposedly from his bank, saying they were checking on a purchase he had just made with his debit card.

“That wasn’t me!” replied Jorge and the “bank rep” kindly offered to help him resolve the problem.

First off, the rep said he would not ask for Jorge’s account number or card number, “because banks never solicit this information.”

The caller then showed Jorge how to block his account and then helped him open a new account, into which Jorge transferred all his money.

As easy as that, Jorge lost everything he had.

Reply YES or NO”

A pensioner got an SMS text message on her phone, apparently from BBVA Bancomer, saying, “Cargo en curso de $7,500 vía banca digital, folio 12345. Sí reconoce la operación, responda según sea el caso: SÍ o NO.

Which means, “You are about to be charged $7,500 via digital bank transaction 12345. Reply YES or NO to approve or deny the transfer.”

The pensioner handed the phone to her daughter. Not sure what to do, the daughter went to Bancomer.

“My mom got this text message,” she told them. “It’s very strange; did it come from you?”

Ay, no, señora!” cried the bank attendant. “Thank God you didn’t reply! You are the fifth person today to tell me the same story. And in every case, it’s an account belonging to a senior citizen.”

If you send back either a yes or no, the criminals now know you are a client of Bancomer, otherwise you wouldn’t have been fooled into answering. They can therefore proceed to the next stage of their nefarious plan, e.g., one of the scams mentioned above.

Scamming people via SMS messages, by the way, is known as “smishing.” If it’s any consolation, the tech site Earthweb says more than 3.5 billion phone users around the world receive fraudulent SMS messages daily. 

Want to check out other tricks used to relieve people of their money in Mexico? See there’s mustard on your backand other scams.

Have a safe and scam-free 2023!

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.

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