Atlanta, Ga. (CBS46) – An Atlanta man claims he was scammed of $1,500 after a scammer pretended to hold his mother hostage over the phone and threatened to kill her.
Blake Smith received one of the scariest phone calls last Friday while working from home. His caller ID showed his mother, Susan, calling but when he picked up, all he heard was a woman crying.
“There were times when my hands were shaking,” Blake recalls. “I thought this was a real situation. I asked my mother, ‘Mom, talk to me! What’s going on, “The next thing I heard was a man’s voice I didn’t recognize at all.”
Blake said the man told Venmo $1,500 or else he would kill Susan. He also warned Blake not to contact the police because he was also ready to die. Blake said any time there’s silence on the phone, the scammer makes it look like he’s hurting Susan.
“The sound in the background was louder,” recalls Blake. “He told me, ‘If you stop, if you call the police, bad things will happen.’ Emotional manipulation is what makes me believe it and again, I don’t have much time to think about it. Everything happened so fast “.
The scammer, named Tim Joiner on Venmo, hung up after receiving Blake’s payment confirmation. Susan didn’t know what her son was saying when he called, but she said he sounded worried.
“I couldn’t recognize his voice,” she said. “He was very emotionally distressed. I thought he was dying and he was calling to say goodbye. That was how he felt at first. It was very traumatic, emotionally for him, and it broke my heart to hear how he showed up. ”
The Smiths believe that Blake may have been the victim of caller ID spoofing. That’s when a caller intentionally falsifies information on your caller id screen to hide their true identity, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Blake filed a police report with the Atlanta Police Department.
“It could have happened to anyone and, according to the police we spoke to, it’s not isolated, so it’s happening out there,” Susan said.
A Venmo spokesperson sent the following statement to CBS46:
“The security and privacy of all Venmo users and their information is always a top priority for the company. We proactively use sophisticated fraud detection tools and manual investigations, and work closely with law enforcement agencies to mitigate potential problems and help our customers I. We encourage customers who suspect they have been the target of a scam or have had an unauthorized transaction to contact Customer Service directly.”
FCC tips on how to avoid tampering:
- You may not immediately know if an incoming call has been spoofed. Be extremely careful in responding to any requests for personally identifiable information.
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
- If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to press a button to stop taking the call, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
- Do not answer any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes” or “No”.
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are in doubt .
- If you get a question from someone who says they represent a company or government agency, hang up and call the number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the website. company or government agency website to verify the authenticity of the claim. You will usually receive a written statement in the mail before receiving a phone call from a legitimate source, especially if the caller is asking for payment.
- Use caution if you are under pressure for immediate information.
- If you have a voicemail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for that account. Some voicemail services are pre-installed to allow access if you are calling from your own phone number. Hackers can spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail if you don’t set a password.
- Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools and check out apps you can download to your mobile device. The FCC allows telephone companies to block calls automatically by default based on reasonable analysis. More information on automatic call blocking is available at fcc.gov/robocalls.
“Never trust caller ID,” said Carrie Kerskie, a cybersecurity expert. “When in doubt, text the person to authenticate while you’re calling.”
Venmo refunded Blake, following our investigation on Monday.
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