An Aiken man was scammed out of more than a quarter-million dollars, and the Aiken Department of Public Safety is warning residents to be wary of similar scamming operations.
The 72-year-old victim was contacted last August by a man claiming to be an attorney in London, who then put him in contact with an attorney in Ghana, according to the report. This supposed attorney told the victim he had a relative in Ghana that had recently died and left him $7.5 million, but, in order to claim the money, he had to pay “certain taxes and fees.”
Over the next several months, the victim sent nearly $258,000 to various locations around the world at the request of these men, according to the report. The victim never saw a return and eventually decided he was being scammed. At a recent meeting with his accountant, he was advised to file a police report.
Lt. Karl Odenthal said as unfortunate as it is, the man likely won't recover any of the money. Further complicating the process of locating the scammers and recovering the money is the fact that they often call from outside the country, particularly in Canada or Nigeria.
“They're using a cellphone and calling (victims) up. You're chasing a ghost,” he said. “Basically, what happens, they'll get a list of numbers and start calling people at random. It's not like they're targeting any one location or saying, 'Hey, we're gonna target Aiken today.' Wherever that number takes them is who they talk to. They hope they're going to get somebody who's going to listen.”
The story used by the scammer varies from case to case.
“They'll tell (the victim) they won the lottery,” he said. “Another one we've had, someone called and said their relative had been arrested, and they needed so much money for bond.”
A Beech Island man recently reported that he received a check for more than $3,800 from a company based in Texas; however, the check had a Canadian postmark. He noted that the check appeared authentic and even had a watermark, but a bank official determined it was fake.
Odenthal said Aiken Public Safety has seen those kinds of cases as well, and the scammers often ask the victim to mail a portion of the money back to them.
“A lot of the banks will tell them it's a scam when they try to cash it,” he said. “They'll deposit that check, get the money and then two weeks later the check will come back as no good and they're out of the money.”
It's difficult for local agencies like Aiken Public Safety to solve such crimes, according to Odenthal.
“We have no means of putting somebody on the ground to track it down,” he said, adding that victims are encouraged to complete a report and possibly recover some of their lost money.
Odenthal advised residents not to provide money or account information, including Social Security numbers, over the phone or the Internet unless it's a verified secure connection.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is. People don't just give away money,” he said. “We all have a sense of, 'Hey, this is easy money,' and that's what their draw is. Easy money isn't just out there.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.