‘I don’t want this to happen to other people’: Spokane man nearly scammed out of life savings

Every scam alert has a story behind it and the U.S. Marshals’ latest warning is no different. A Spokane man said earlier this month, he came close to losing everything in a social security scam.

John* told 4 News Now when he answered the phone a few weeks ago, the voice on the other line said John’s social security number had been compromised, which meant all of his assets would be seized. The so-called security officer told John their office, along with the U.S. Marshals, would stop by his house the next day and get him a new number. In the meantime, John was told he needed to withdraw his money before it was taken from him.

“While I’m driving to the bank, it was so convincing that he said that I should set my phone down because if I was pulled over right now, I would be detained because I was already in the system,” he said. “They said it was gonna be a courtesy call to me to have me withdraw my money so it wouldn’t be seized and held, so I would have to fight for my innocence to get the monies back.”

While in the car, John asked the man on the other line to prove who he was.

“He said that if I didn’t believe him, I would find out when all my monies were seized from the bank and so, he told me not to talk to the teller, or anything,” he said. “And that’s when I proceeded in the bank to withdraw my life savings.”

Despite orders not to tell anyone about the withdrawal, John immediately called his sister when he saw his life savings on the teller’s counter. It became clear John was caught in the middle of a scam.

“The call was so convincing that I was doing everything that this man was asking me to,” he said. “He had my information, he gave me a case number, a file number, and his badge number — and at that point, I really thought he was legit.”

Gavin Duffy serves as the chief deputy for the Eastern District of Washington United States Marshal service and told 4 News Now stories like John’s are not uncommon.

“It’s a pretty scary thing for someone to call and threaten your liberty and because of that, logical, intelligent people kinda make knee-jerk and illogical decisions,” Duffy said.

Duffy said scammers can spoof phone numbers, making it seem like the call is coming from a government agency. According to Duffy, scammers might ask for money in the form of prepaid debit cards or cash deposited into a Bitcoin ATM, but the government doesn’t operate that way — threats of legal action will not come out of the blue. Officers will come see you personally if there are any criminal implications.

If you’re unsure if the call or threat you’re getting is legitimate, Duffy said it’s best to check in at the agency’s office in person. He cautioned people may start to see an uptick in calls from scammers claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security office as tax season approaches.

Even though John avoided getting scammed out of thousands of dollars, the day he got the call has stayed with him.

“The violation that I was feeling at the time this was happening — I don’t want this to happen to other people,” he said. “[It] just, kinda takes the trust out of some of the world for a person.”

*Name has been changed.