WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Factfinder 12 sheds light on quite a few scams, but often has to explain why it’s so hard to track down the scammers. What we don’t often get to do is show all the moving parts of the scam and how it works…and just because it’s hard to track down the scammers, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Facebook is a site, originally intended to connect friends and family, cousins from across the country or just across town. Longtime Wichita resident, Delpha Schrader, was contacted by her cousin recently. She sent her a message on Facebook Messenger explaining the deal of a lifetime.
“She (Schrader’s cousin) said that she knew my name is on the list because she saw it when she got her package delivered,” Schrader explained.
Schrader’s cousin told her she’d just received thousands of dollars delivered right to her door. A government grant, she said.
“It was for widows and people that can’t work and just different things,” Schrader said.
The grant could be worth up to $90,000, but there was a small catch. Schrader would need to send some money first.
“I had to send them $1,500 overnight, and they’d get it the next day,” Schrader said.
Schrader’s cousin put her in touch, again on Facebook, with someone named Ellen Bradley – who works for Senior Benefit Assistance of Oklahoma. The person claiming to be Ellen Bradley told her to send the $1,500 to a woman who, because she hasn’t been charged with a crime, we’ll call “Jane.” “Jane” lives, and supposedly works, in North Augusta, South Carolina. Once the money was received, Schrader was told she would be issued a check that would be delivered by a special service. Factfinder 12 verified Schrader received each of these messages and instructions.
Schrader stayed in contact with Bradley and her cousin, but the grant money never arrived. Bradley said there had been a hold up with the IRS, then she said it was the Treasury Department that had flagged some issues. Schrader was then told she’d need to send an additional $9,000 in order to receive the grant money she’d been promised.
“I told her on there, I said, ‘this is a scam.’ She says ‘no Delpha this is no scam.’ And she said ‘yeah, I just need you to stay calm and just sleep good tonight’ and all this crap, and I said ‘I can’t because,’ I said ‘I’m upset.’”
In short order, after being contacted by Schrader, Factfinder 12 determined someone used the profile picture of Schrader’s cousin to create a fake account. All indications are that Ellen Bradley’s account is also phony. It wasn’t being used to conduct any business, publicly at least, and there was only one post posted to the page’s wall from 2017. The business where Bradley claims to work is an actual business. The business sells insurance. When contacted, the owner said he’d never heard of anyone named Ellen Bradley.
So what about “Jane,” the woman to whom Schrader over-nighted $1,500? Is she real? She certainly is. Factfinder 12 tracked her, not to a business as Schrader thought, but to a mobile home park in North Augusta, South Carolina. KWCH then teamed with investigators at our sister station WRDW in Augusta, Georgia. Augusta is just about a twenty minute drive from there.
A UPS receipt shows the woman we’re calling “Jane” signed for the package sent by Delpha Schrader. When an investigative reporter from WRDW’s I-Team showed up to “Jane’s” home, they twice found packages sitting on the front porch sent from other parts of the country and a note taped to the door instructing delivery drivers where to best leave packages. “Jane’s” neighbor confirms she receives many package deliveries throughout the week. In all, WRDW’s I-Team made three visits to “Jane’s” home. Once she was not there and twice she refused to answer the door. So, in the world of Internet scams where Factfinder 12 often has to explain why it’s so hard to track down scammers, why would “Jane” use her real name and address?
To answer that question, Factfinder 12 turned to a sort of expert in the field of Internet scams. He goes by the pseudonym “Jim Browning.” He’s an engineer who uses his talents at a computer keyboard to turn the tables on scammers and then put it on YouTube. He has more than three million subscribers to his channel where he explains the inner workings of various scams, often interceding in order to keep victims from losing money. He explained to Factfinder 12 that people like Jane are not generally the people who initiate the scam and are purposefully used in a way that makes them more vulnerable to prosecution than the masterminds behind the schemes.
“They typically are not the people at the top by any means…the way they are recruited is to simply keep a fraction of the cash, that they will be told will be in that package, and then send the rest on somewhere else,” Browning explained. “The people who received those packages, usually know what they’re up to.”
Browning says he believes “Jane” is the middle man, something known as a money mule, in an elaborate scam that originates and helps protect scammers overseas.
“If you can put as many steps between the victim and the recipient, then you’re far less likely to be caught,” he said.
Here’s how it works. Scammers at call centers overseas contact victims with some made up story and get them to send cash to a second party, like “Jane.” The middleman who receives the cash, or “money mule” as Browning says, then takes a cut and sends the rest out of the country. The cash may go through several money mules, each taking their cut, before it finally reaches the original scammers. This makes it much more difficult for authorities to track down the people at the top that are actually responsible for the scam. Because of all the middlemen, the scammers who originated the scheme receive a much smaller amount of money than what was sent by the victim, but it’s all profit.
Factfinder 12 tracked down “Jane’s” daughter and spoke to her by phone. She says her mother has been receiving packages filled with cash for the last three years and confirms, she turns around and ships some of that money out of the country. She feels her mother may, herself, be a victim of some type of scam…and that the people she sends the money to tell her she can expect a big payoff at some point. Money she’ll likely never see, much like victims like Delpha Schrader.
Factfinder 12 helped Schrader file a police report, naming “Jane” by her real name. We will continue to follow-up with detectives in Wichita, and investigators at WRDW will do the same with authorities in South Carolina. We also reported both accounts used to scam Schrader to Facebook and requested they be removed.
So, how can you fight back? First: never send cash to anyone ever. If anyone tells you, no matter how convincing the story, that you have to pay a little money to get a lot…it is a scam. That advice comes from the Better Business Bureau who also worked with Factfinder 12 on this investigation. The BBB could not give an example of a legitimate situation where consumers were asked to pay money to receive money. If someone you know reaches out to you on Facebook or by email, do not reply through those platforms. Instead, call or email them at the number or address you already have for them, not the number they give you.
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