WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — West Terre Haute resident Janet Bays said she never answers the phone to numbers she doesn’t know. But one morning last month, she did.

“A gentleman told me that he was calling to check on one of my accounts that they had a 700 and some dollar charge on my card and he just wanted to make sure it was okay,” Janet recalled. “I said no, it isn’t okay.”

Bays was told by the man that, to make up for the charge, she could go to a local Walgreens and pick up a gift card. She was instructed to stay on the line with him. Bays decided to bring her husband along, even though the man over the phone instructed her not to.

“We went up there and on the way up there I said ‘we’re being scammed’,” Bays said.

She was right. The Walgreens manager was able to assist her in avoiding the purchase of the gift card, but Bays still had to sort out some money lost from her account with her credit card company. Luckily, she was able to get the money back into her account.

This scam, unfortunately, is not new to law enforcement.

Indiana State Police Sergeant Matt Ames said data shows 1 in 3 people will be scammed at some point in their life.

“When individuals do call and they get someone to answer, they become very persuasive and very argumentative,” Ames said. “They start putting a lot of pressure on the individual that they’re trying to receive money from.” 

Ames said older adults, who tend to be more trustworthy and less tech-savvy, are the main targets of these scams. However, he added that anyone can fall prey.

Here’s a breakdown of some data Ames shared from TrueCaller.com:

  • 1 in 3 Americans will fall prey to a scam
  • The average amount of money a person will lose, whether temporarily or permanently, as part of a scam is $500
  • Over $29 billion was taken from U.S. citizens through scams in the most recent data collection

Ames said scammers could pretend to be law enforcement, the BMV, the IRS or another company. The scam could come in the form of a phone call, a text message, an email or even in a person’s mailbox.

When a person does receive a mysterious text message or obscure phone call, the directions from law enforcement are simple.

“Number one, don’t answer the phone,” Ames directed. “Allow that phone to roll over to your voicemail and if someone is needing to contact you, they’ll leave you a voicemail.”

When a person does answer the phone or click on a link in an online message, the scammer is then able to verify the validity of the contact. This leads to more and more attempts by scammers to infiltrate bank accounts and other sensitive information.

Ames said the Putnamville Post of ISP has heard reports of as many as 50 calls a day to one person.

Ames said that bringing scammers to justice is very difficult due to the nature of the Internet and advanced technology.

“A lot of times we try to take these cases and turn them over to the federal government and allow them to use their technology that they have,” Ames explained. “But it is very difficult to try to track these down.”

Bays said she reported her scam experience to the Terre Haute Police Department. The response was similar to ISP; they are aware of the prevalence of scams and are working to prosecute scammers on a regular basis.

Bays echoed Ames’ advice to avoid answering any calls from unknown numbers. She said she is frustrated to think that others could fall prey to a scam call and risk losing their money.

“When you think that you are being cautious and you’re still getting scammed, it’s really upsetting,” Bays said. “There’s just too much of this going on and people can get caught up in it just like I did, very easily.”

There is the option to file a fraud report via the Fraud Alert Program. Information can be found on the Indiana Attorney General’s website.