Tennessee woman falls victim to scam texts targeting poor


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee woman has fallen victim to a scam that targets the poor.

Phone scams have been around as long as landlines have existed. But with the rise of smartphones, many more opportunities for callers to trick people with false claims have also risen.

Recently, swindlers tricked a woman desperate to pay off her debts.

Not only is the woman disabled, she also lives in public housing and now she owes thousands of dollars.

Many assume that it’s only the elderly who fall for seemingly obvious ploys, but certain scams are growing more sophisticated and age doesn’t matter.

An annual summary of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission shows that only 18% of fraud victims were aged 70 or older.

The woman who reached out to WATE 6 On Your Side is 57 years old. Her financial situation was a big factor in her being targeted.

Gail Madden is a severe diabetic who lives alone. Six years ago, she had both legs amputated. To control her diabetes, she depends of insulin – twice a day.

Her disability check of $1,100 a month doesn’t go far. She’s now wondering how she’s going to afford the medication she needs daily to control her disease, because recently Gail plunged deeper into debt – from a text scam.

Madden was told she qualifies for a Community Development Block Grant because of her disability and economic level. She responded. The person claimed he was with the government, working for “Community Development Grant and federal government humanity.”

They also told her the grant was for $200,000.

Convinced she was going to get the grant, she was instructed to buy gift cards and send pictures of the numbers on the back of the cards to the text messages. Madden borrowed $2,200 to purchase gift cards.

She said she borrowed from different places to get the money cards – including Cash Express.

“I was hoping to use it to pay off some of my debt,” she said.

Now, her rent is overdue.

She’s still talking with the people, as they continue to send her text messages daily; asking her for $250 more before they send her a package of money.

Madden has texted back saying she has no more money to spend. Soon, she will have to repay three loan businesses.

“People often fall into scams when people say, ‘oh, we have a reward for you, but you have to pay something for that.’ If it sounds too good to be true, don’t,” says financial expert Rose Swanger.

Swanger also says it is unfortunate that those in debt, like Madden, often fall prey to scams that target them.

“Talk to a family friend,” Swanger said. “Ask, ‘do you think that’s real? Help me double-check on that person’s background.’ Do some due diligence when you go to borrow.”

The Community Development Block Grant is one of the longest-running federal HUD programs. The Housing and Urban Development grant pays for community development activities, affordable housing, and infrastructure development.

Madden has notified authorities, but now even more in debt, she’s realizing her mistake and is asking her landlord for help.

“I talked to the office down here they are will to give me 3 months to catch it up. They also told me I can talk to some of the churches around here to help me out,” she said. “I’m not (sending any more money). I don’t have it to send.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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