PINAL COUNTY – “I have nothing,” Julie Brown says. “They got my whole retirement.”
Mrs. Brown survived cancer four times, but not scammers, They took her life savings of $67,000.
The scam occurred over three months of phone calls to the 81-year-old Saddlebrook resident. The first came last October from a man claiming to be an agent with the “Criminal Department of the Federal Government.” There is no such agency.
Mrs. Brown said the call caused her to panic. The guy posed as an agent used the name “Charles Miller.” Julie said, “They told me they had my Social Security number and my given name, and they were calling me with charges that have been in litigation by the federal government.”
The caller somehow did have Julie’s Social Security number and knew her real name, Julianna, which she never uses. He said she was facing prison time due to pending charges in Texas, including money laundering and drug trafficking, and that a car found in her name contained cocaine and blood residue. An incredible story, besides the fact that Julie has never been to Texas. Yet, she believed it.
She said she kept sending them money due to “Their gentleness, their kindness, their protection. When he called me every day it was to make sure I was ok. I believed they were federal agents.”
The scammer using the name “Charles Miller” told Julie to call another supposed agent with the Department of Justice, using the name “Rejive Maphur.” She then followed his instructions to open accounts at two Wells Fargo branches and send cashier’s checks from her Bank of the West account to a guy using the name, “Danny Allen.”
“At the beginning, I said, ‘This kind of sounds like a scam,’ and then Charles Miller said, ‘Julianna Brown, this could not be a scam. We’re here to protect you from these charges.'”
The supposed agent told Julie her money was going to be temporarily held by the federal government, to keep it safe so the scammers couldn’t access it. They said if she didn’t keep this confidential, it’d be public record and people would find out. So Julie never even told her husband of 32 years until it was too late. After she sent the scammers the $67,000 in several checks over three months and told them that’s all she had, in January they stopped answering her phone calls and texts.
When she finally realized she had been scammed her first reaction was, “It’s almost like you have been raped of everything you believed in. And honesty was one of them.”
Julie only then did what she should have done after getting the first call: she reported the fraud to the FBI, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Social Security Administration. An investigator with Social Security told Julie she “had never heard anything like this.”
The News 4 Tucson Investigators called the number the scammers used while talking to Julie. It had a 469 area code; that’s in Dallas. The guy who answered said it was a wrong number. And he had a southern accent, not have a foreign one as Julie had told us. Scammers use technology to use hide their real phone number.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Granoff warns, “If a stranger calls you, or contacts you or communicates with you asking for money, don’t do it.” Also, you should not engage strangers who call you. Never divulge personal information, hang up and report it to law enforcement.
Julie said she contacted the News 4 Tucson Investigators because “I need it out in the public to tell people what can happen without any slips in the [scammers] presentations. They’re so professional. And I need to tell people so it doesn’t happen to them.”
We asked Julie what she would say to the scammers in the unlikely event she could ever talk to them again. “I find that hard,” she said, “because I don’t think I have the words to say what they’ve done. I would rather shoot them. And I’m not a gun person.”
Julie doesn’t know how the scammers got her Social Security number. There are several ways they do it, including stealing mail, paying employees at institutions that have it, and, going through your trash.
There is a Scam/Fraud Awareness & Health Fair this Thursday, April 18, at Barrio Viejo Elderly Housing, 124 W. 18 St. in Tucson, from 10:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. This event is free to the public and a Spanish translator will be there. Retired Tucson Police Department Sgt. Bill Brunel will be the special guest presenter. Besides getting advice on how to avoid being a scam victim, there will be information on medical and dental care.
If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.