Knoxville woman taken in by text message ‘smishing’ scam

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – It’s likely you have heard of phishing scams. That’s where con artists cast a wide net, hoping to catch a victim with fake information and get some money.

There’s a new scam called “smishing” that cost a local woman several hundred dollars. She received a text message that was quick to grab her attention.

There have been studies that show the majority of incoming text messages are opened within 15 minutes. Scam artists know this.

They target people with text message phishing scams known as smishing. If you believe the message came from one of your friends, it can catch you off guard.

The last few months have been rough for Kitt Spicer, a cancer survivor.  After a period of remission for nearly two years, her cancer has returned. She’s back seeing her doctor and the care is expensive.

To her surprise, several friends sent her a text message. Because of her disability, Spicer qualified for a government grant. 

“That they had got $50,000 from a federal grant and you can too. You pay $500 and you get $50,000,” she said. “And, I said, ‘Praise the Lord.’ I haven’t never got anything.”

Spicer was grateful and quick to respond. She bought a $500 money order and sent it to California. However, she’s disappointed in herself. Moments after sending the $500, she received another text demanding more money.

“They surprised me with a text saying they needed $5,000. That was the taxes on the $50,000. We go to get the $5,000, I had it in my hands. My bank told me and my husband, don’t do this,” Spicer said.

Spicer says three of her friends texted her, confirming they had gotten the money. The names she wrote down are her Facebook friends. The scammers likely discovered them after reading her page and sent the phony text information. 

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that “money for nothing” grant offers are scams and that text messaging is the newest way of reaching people. The FTC says grant scammers generally follow a script.

You’re first required to pay an upfront “qualification” fee, then you’re hit for more.

“They vary all over the board. They could be from out of the country,” said Don Lindsey.

Lindsey, with AARP, also says scammers are difficult to track down. He said once they’ve convinced you to send the first payment, they come back for more. 

“Typically they’re folks wanting to get a quick buck and not get it legitimately,” said Lindsey.

“My message is even though you get a text and you think it’s through a friend, a friend you go to church with, please don’t listen. Please don’t listen. Because I messed up,” said Spicer.

These government grant scams, or imposter scams as they’re also called, are on the rise. The FTC reports that imposter scam complaints overtook identity theft complaints in the government’s data book a few years ago.

With messaging another way to reach potential victims, the numbers will likely continue to rise. Remember, no one is going to reward you for being a good citizen, someone who pays taxes or having a disability.

If you get a text message like Spicer received, call your real friend first.

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