SALT LAKE CITY — A southern Utah woman learned just how convincing phone scams can be when someone tried to convince her that her daughter was in serious trouble.
Lynne Greenleaf said she typically doesn't answer unknown numbers, but recently, she decided to pick up. She said the first thing she heard was a female voice saying "Mom?"
"Super hysterical, called me mom, so I responded with my daughter's name and tried to calm her down and I just couldn't get any sense out of her," Greenleaf said.
The call disconnected, but then the number called back, Greenleaf added. This time, there was a different voice.
"It's a man's voice and he's saying, 'I'm officer so-and-so. I have your daughter here and she's been through quite a traumatic experience and we need to calm her down,'" Greenleaf said.
The voice told Greenleaf her daughter had witnessed a shooting and that they were trying to get information from her, but they needed to get her calmed down. She spent 20 minutes on the phone with them before she noticed the man say something odd.
“He said 'Well, this person who's been shot. They're taking the bullet out, he's right here on the ground. The cartel,' he used the word 'cartel', 'is concerned about his medical expenses and they want some help covering his medical expenses," Greenleaf said.
Utah Division of Consumer Protection director Daniel O'Bannon has heard this kind of thing before.
"A little bit of a new twist, but it has some of the classic signs of an imposter scam," O'Bannon said.
Scammers will try to establish a relationship with a potential victim, then make a plea for money, according to O’Bannon. If you are questioning whether or not the call is legitimate, he said, you should ask questions.
"Ask 'What's my daughter's name?' 'Where has she been the last couple of weeks?' Ask questions that will validate or, really, invalidate the narrative that you're hearing on the phone," O'Bannon said.
Greenleaf did just that, asking the woman on the phone what her father's middle name is. She said she never got an answer and hung up. She made contact with her daughter and discovered she was safe and sound. Greenleaf said her husband's phone number is one digit up from hers and he got the next call. The caller ID, she said, showed it was a Russian number, which would make it difficult for law enforcement to help.
Greenleaf is thankful she realized what was happening. O'Bannon said if people give scammers the money, it's often lost forever.
"The worst-case scenario, unfortunately, is the more common scenario in these types of scams," O'Bannon said.