MANSFIELD, Mass. - A Mansfield senior who fell victim to a common phone scam lost thousands of dollars to the scammers.
Ron Webster, Sr., 77, an Air Force veteran who recently lost his wife of 59 years, received the calls on his cell phone starting around noon Wednesday. A woman pretending to be from the Social Security fraud department told Webster his social security number had been used fraudulently at several banks.
"She said, 'We’ve been investigating this for two weeks. We don’t think that you’re guilty; however, you’re responsible,'" Webster said, adding that she claimed she was working with Mansfield police. "I’m saying, 'Oh my God.' And she told me there was going to be a warrant for my arrest. That really scared the living heck out of me."
The woman told Webster his bank accounts were attached to the fraudulent activity and he would need to clear them out and put the money on gift cards.
Webster, who cares for his adult daughter who has Down Syndrome, feared his money and identification, as well as his daughter's, were in jeopardy.
So, he did as he was told, emptying out his bank accounts and charging his credit card to buy $5,000 worth of gift cards at two local supermarkets. He then read the numbers off the back of the cards to the scammers, believing they were only verification of purchase.
"That number that I scratched off the back like a scratch ticket you get - that was the number to cash it. I didn’t know that!" Webster said. "So they get the number, they cash the card, put it in their account. The card’s nothing but a piece of cardboard now."
During the four-hour-long ordeal, Webster stopped in at his house. There, his son overheard the conversation and suspected fraud.
Webster didn't hang up his cell phone but simultaneously called Mansfield police on his landline. He asked for the fake officer he'd been speaking with by name and was told there was no such officer at the department. He then called the first scammer he'd been talking to and found the number had been disconnected.
Mansfield police arrived at Webster's home and took over his cell phone.
"(The real officer) said, 'This is Officer So-and-So from the Mansfield Police Department. The gig is up.'" Webster recalled. "Click. That was the end of that."
Webster's family and friends are surprised he fell for the scam, but he says he was vulnerable because of his state of mind. His beloved wife Ellie recently died after he took care of her following a stroke six years ago.
"I’m getting more forgetful, but since my wife passed away... months ago, my head has just been terrible," Webster said. "I get confused very easily. Small things, big things. Just my head is really mushy. That’s why I just couldn't pick up on it. Plus, they just sounded so doggone believable."
Mansfield police tell Boston 25 News such phone scams are very common. They are almost always untraceable, often from outside the country, and the stolen money is typically long gone.
"If they call enough people and they get one or two, they make three or four times what one person makes in a week, tax-free," said Mansfield Police Sgt. Mike Ellsworth, who told Boston 25 News he himself has received about 15 scam calls in the past three days about his social security number. "It's sad it's happening."
Webster said he might be able to recoup $500 charged to a credit card, but the other $4,500 is gone forever.
"It's done with. What am I going to do?" Webster said. "It’s like [my wife] passing. I got to accept it, you know?"
Meanwhile, Webster is warning others, particularly seniors, not to fall for phone scams.
"People have to be more aware that these people are pretty damn sharp," Webster said. " I think they’re scum. If I were to see that person face to face, I'd find some kind of inner strength so I could smack them one."
Family and friends have been donating to a GoFundMe account set up to cover the money Webster lost. To donate, click here.
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