Text message hoax: Local woman out thousands

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jun 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-13 11:26:38-04

Her friend told her about a "great deal," but it wasn't until a local woman was out the money that she realized the tip did not come from someone she knew.  It's a new way thieves are trying to reel in victims.   

Scam artists using fake caller ID numbers is not a new thing.  They're hoping a local number gets you to answer the phone, but in the case of a West Allis woman she got a text message from a number she recognized. A few thousand dollars later, she realized it was all a lie. 

Barbara Terwelp bought thousands of dollars in iTunes gift cards.   Money she says she lost after being fooled by a text message.  "I said 'you sure it ain't a scam?'  She said 'no.' "  Terwelp got a text from a friend telling her about a great deal.  She said what made the deal legit was the text came from a number she recognized.

The message said a man would contact Terwelp with the details. A "give money to get more money" proposition.  Two thousand dollars in gift cards for $200,000.  The text Terwelp thought was coming from a friend, verified the money was real.  Terwelp told us, "she said 'I got it.'  She didn't have no problem with them."

So Terwelp bought the iTunes gift cards and sent pictures of the redemption codes to a stranger.  "He always was polite to me. Madam, dear.  And I appreciated that," she said.  But then came demands for more gift cards.  And Terwelp learned her friend never sent that text. She filed a report with the West Allis Police Department.  

Deputy Chief Bob Fletcher pointed out, "any type of media is really being used now in order to get a hold of people."  He told us the department is seeing more reports when it comes to fraud.
"We would get them maybe once or twice a month. Now we get several a week."

Fletcher called these crimes, frustrating, "the chances of a successful arrest and prosecution in these cases is very minimal." The focus for law enforcement and many retailers is on preventing the fraud.

Some big box stores are training employees to recognize scams.  Target puts limits on gift cards.  It also has signs in stores and general safety tips online for consumers.  But the criminals already seem to be one step ahead.  "They really get the victim on the hook that they're going to be getting something out of this and don't let the store stand in your way," Fletcher pointed out.

Barbara has stopped hoping she'll get her money back but is talking about what happened to her. "I've told all my friends 'if you don't personally talk to me on the phone or come over it's not legit.' " 

West Allis PD has a detective assigned to the U.S. Secret Service task force. That detective investigates the fraud reports that come in, but many of these criminals are overseas.  All fraud reports are shared with the FBI; sometimes a local case is a piece to the puzzle that eventually leads to an arrest. 

If you've been the victim of fraud report it to the local police or the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.