A Professor Thought He Was Sending Money To Help Federal Officials Catch Human Traffickers. It Was A Scam.

January 31, 2021

When the retired professor answered his phone one morning in late July, he said an official-sounding man announced he was an agent with the Social Security Administration and was calling to tell the man he had been ensnared in an international ring.

Traffickers from Mexico had gotten the 81-year-old’s name and Social Security number and were using the information to help smuggle drugs and people across the border into El Paso, the caller claimed.

The story seemed hard to believe, but whatever doubts the professor said he harbored melted away as the purported agent unspooled detail after detail of the man’s life. He knew his Social Security number. He listed properties the man had purchased 20 years ago and knew the banks he used.

When the hook on the scam came, the professor was worried enough to act: The scammer told him he needed to purchase thousands of dollars worth of gift cards and withdraw tens of thousands from the bank. The money, which he was instructed to send to Virginia, would allegedly be used as a lure to help catch the traffickers. He was told the money would be returned.

The professor had already dropped a box full of cash at a San Francisco FedEx by the time his partner heard about what was happening and sounded the alarm. What followed was a cross-country scramble to get the box before the scammers did in Fairfax County.
“I was ashamed, quite frankly,” the man said. “How could I be conned like that?”

Government impersonation scams are an exploding category of crime with losses increasing tenfold from $12.5 million in 2017 to $124 million in 2019, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FBI, U.S. Marshals, IRS and police departments nationwide have reported issues in recent years, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been one of the hardest hit.

SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul testified before the Senate in January that the number of complaints it had received about scam calls had jumped from about 5,000 in 2018 to more than 60,000 in 2019.

Read the full article by Justin Jouvenal on The Washington Post.