CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. — A Cedar Springs woman lost thousands of dollars and revealed key personal details after she received a message on social media from a likely scammer who pretended to be a relative.
“I thought it was real,” said Rosa Kempainen. “I said, ‘Ok, I could try as well.’”
In December, Kempainen received a message from her aunt.
Kempainen, who is deaf, frequently relies on social media to talk with her family and friends. She says the profile picture looked like her aunt, so she assumed nothing was wrong.
The aunt had claimed she won $150,000 through a government grant opportunity and encouraged Kempainen to apply for it too.
Once Kempainen agreed, she was directed to a profile named “Agent James Scott Larry,” who quickly said she qualified for the money.
Over the next few hours, “Agent Larry” collected most of Kempainen’s personal information and requested she buy two thousand dollars' worth of Apple gift cards to pay for processing fees for the prize.
“He needed a driver’s license and my social security number,” said Kempainen. “I had to drive back and forth to different stores and buy four cards.”
Just over a month later, though, Kempainen isn’t rich.
“I am deaf, I’m older, so maybe I was targeted,” said Kempainen. “I was angry and depressed, just mad. I cried.”
It turns out Kempainen’s aunt’s profile was fake and she likely fell victim to a con in which scammers impersonate someone the user knows to lure them in then take whatever money and identifying information they can get.
FOX 17 contacted “Agent Larry” on Facebook in an attempt to ask if Kempainen’s situation was a misunderstanding.
The agent messaged back, but only wanted to know Kempainen’s name before he stopped replying.
Underneath his profile picture, “Agent Larry” could be seen starting the process all over again by replying to another person and congratulating them on their winnings on Wednesday morning.
“I was very angry,” said David Kempanien, Rosa’s son. “You know, that’s just my mom, so it just really is gut wrenching.”
Kempanien eventually told her children what had happened. The day after, her Facebook account was deleted, her banking information was changed, alerts were put on her social security number, among other protections.
However, Kempanien says she still lives with some sense of fear since things that can’t be changed, like her address, is out there.
“I’m paranoid that maybe somebody’s following me. I don’t know,” said Kempanien.
Kempanien and her family hope their message cautions people to think before they take a chance on something that sounds too good to be true.
“It can happen to anybody,” said David Kempanien. “You [his mom] thought it was our aunt. Just because somebody can copy a profile and it looks like it’s them… I mean it’s just a message, so they talk like them.”
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COMMON SIGNS OF A SCAM AND WHAT TO DO
Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young says her office receives scam reports year-round.
While the circumstances surrounding a scam may vary, LaJoye-Young says they generally follow a pattern, which includes four signs:
- Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know: They may use a real name, like the IRS, or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business, like a utility company or a charity. Technology is frequently used to change the phone number that appears on a person’s caller ID, so names and numbers received may be fake.
- Scammers say there’s a problem or a prize: They may say you’re in trouble with the government and you owe money or someone in your family had an emergency. Some says there’s problems with your accounts that need to verify some information. Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes, but a fee must be paid to get it.
- Scammers pressure you to act immediately: Scammers want people to act before they can think. For example, if you’re on the phone, they may tell you not to hang up so you can’t verify the story. They may also threaten to arrest or sue you, take away something like a business license, or that your computer is about to be corrupted.
- Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way: They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money-transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then give them the number on the back. In some cases, people send a fake check, tell you to deposit, and then send them money.
“It happens to many, many, many people,” said LaJoye-Young. “We have to get rid of the stigma, and we have to keep some of those safety issues in mind.”
LaJoye-Young stresses that people practice empathy and compassion if someone tells them they were or think they were scammed.
To avoid a scam, LaJoye-Young recommends the following steps:
- Block unwanted calls and text messages.
- Don’t give personal or financial information in response to a request not expected.
- Resist the pressure to act immediately.
- Know how scammers tell you to pay.
- Stop and talk to someone you trust.
“Insert some time,” said LaJoye-Young. “Hang up from that phone call, maybe contact whatever organization they say they’re representing through a different means, like, look up the number on the web.”
If a person does fall victim to a scam, LaJoye-Young suggests people contact local law enforcement or the United Way, who can then direct people to free- and low-cost resources that help people recover from a fraudulent issue based on the personal and financial information revealed.
People can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
If a person falls victim to a gift card scam, click here to report.
If a person thinks their identity was stolen or they gave out personal information, click here to report.
For phone scams, report it here.
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