Phone scams remain lucrative, but risks exist: Ex-director of FBI, CIA takes on a phone scammer—and wins
Showcasing some of the common elements of basic phone scams and their surprising successes, a recent case saw a Jamaica-based phone scammer attempt to scam William H. Webster, ex-director of both the FBI and CIA and the only person to have headed both agencies. The case started in 2014 when the intended victim was nearly 90 years old (the over-70 demographic is the most at-risk for phone scams, something that scammers work to target).
The scam began as an “advance-fee fraud” scheme in which the caller announces that the victim has won a prize but must provide an advance sum to cover the insurance costs before the prize can be released. When this scheme did not work with Mr. Webster, the scammer began to threaten the victim and everybody in the household, describing his house and providing other details to render the threats more vivid. By this time, however, the victim had reached out to his contacts still in the bureau. An agent listened in on a call and a criminal complaint was filed. The scammer’s location in Jamaica meant that the bureau did not put additional efforts into pursuing the case further. But when the scammer tried to visit the U.S. three years later in 2017, he was arrested and charged with extortion. This past week, the scammer received a six-year prison sentence, after which he will be returned to Jamaica.
During the trial, it was revealed that the scammer had successfully targeted more than 30 people, stealing over $600,000 from a single California man in one case. While such scams appear out-of-date in an era of more sophisticated hacking and cyber theft, information available on the internet has rendered many such scammers more effective. In 2015, the FBI estimated losses of $275 million across the US due to such fraud. In 2017, the estimate reached $675 million.