In the latest phone scam that’s been effective in stealing money across America, the caller pretends to be a DEA agent who threatens the potential victim with arrest unless a payment is made.
One common version of the scam has the caller claiming to be an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The caller says the victim’s name and Social Security number have been used to rent a vehicle which has been found near the U.S. border with Mexico. The vehicle is suspected of being involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, the caller says.
The phony DEA agent says there’s a way to resolve the issue and avoid getting caught up in this criminal ring. The victim is told they can pay a fine – often with gift cards – to avoid prosecution.
According to figures from the Federal Trade Commission, the number of reported phone scams has nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020. Right at half a million reports were filed last year with losses of more than $1 billion.
According to ABC News, the scammers often use extreme pressure and the threat of criminal charges in an effort to extort money. The thieves also threaten to freeze bank accounts. In different versions of the scam, the thieves have claimed to be affiliated with the FBI and IRS.
Illinois resident Terri Tuson fell victim to the scam in July, according to an ABC News report. Tuson said she was told by phone her Social Security number had been used to rent a car that was found in Texas, along the border, with drugs in the car. The scammers told her they were going to freeze her bank accounts unless she withdrew her money and transferred it to gift cards.
“I was scared because I didn’t know if it was actually going to happen or not,” said Tuson, who works as a housekeeper at a hospital in Illinois.
She complied with the demand to purchase $2,800 in eBay and Best Buy gift cards and told ABC News she lost all of her money.
The DEA says it will never call and threaten a person with arrest unless a payment is made.
Law enforcement officials say it’s a giant red flag if a caller makes demands for payment by gift card.