KRDO13 Investigates scammer calls as data shows Gen Z is more likely to be deceived than Boomers

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) – Scammers are everywhere. I receive suspicious calls, texts or emails almost every day, so I decided to turn the tables and call them to ask why they are doing it.

On March 8, 20-year-old Lucas Whiting received a call from someone who identified himself as an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They told him there was a foreign package with his name on it. The package contained drugs and Whiting faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and years in prison.

“I can’t take the risk of ending up in jail and endangering the rest of my family or completely ruining my life,” he recalled at the time.

Whiting told the officer that the package was not his, so the officer said someone had his personal information and was using it to ship drugs into the country. He told Whiting that whoever did this had access to his bank account and that he needed to secure his money.

“There were little gaps, but it was all largely believable, especially because you were told not to tell anyone,” Whiting said. “Just like we have this business, everything will be fine once it’s closed.”

The alleged agent told Whiting to transfer his money to Bitcoin. While still on the phone, Whiting went to the nearest Bitcoin machine at a gas station just outside his neighborhood to create an account. Whiting received multiple QR codes to deposit the money, so he clicked on the first one. That click gave the would-be customs agent his savings, more than $9,000.

“It certainly changed some of the trajectory of our lives, at least in the short term,” said Whiting, who was planning a wedding with his fiancée when he lost the money.

When Whiting realized what had happened, he filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Any complaint filed with the FTC is immediately available to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.

In 2023, scammers made history. According to the FTC, consumers have lost more than $10 billion to fraud – the highest amount on record and a 14% increase from the previous year. The most common fraud last year was scams by scammers. So Whiting isn’t alone: ​​Consumers lost $2.7 billion to people posing as government officials, family members or authority figures.

“Contact the real entity using a phone number you know is real, as many of these scams now impersonate companies where you may have an account and trick you into thinking your money is at risk,” says Emma Fletcher, a senior data researcher at the Federal Trade Commission. “Ironically, people end up getting scammed because they thought their account was compromised, when in fact it was all fake.”

When I dug through the FTC’s 2023 data, I discovered another alarming trend. The number of reported scams targeting people aged 20 to 29 has doubled in the past five years. In 2023, the FTC said this age group reported losing money more often than people age 70 or older. Whiting, who falls into that category as a 20-year-old, says he’s not surprised.

“When you go after younger people, they may not have as much money, but they don’t have the resources and the knowledge to fight it, to challenge it, or to know that they’re even being ripped off.”

As someone who falls within that age range, I wanted to experience what it was like to be on the other line with a scammer. I found a website that posts alleged scam numbers as a way to warn the public. One of the numbers came from a false computer error message.

The person who answered was difficult to understand, not because of her foreign accent, but because of the loud background noise. She immediately identified herself as “tech support.”

“There are hackers from different locations trying to gain access to your computer,” she said. ‘That’s why your computer is locked. Look at your typing keyboard. I’ll help you unlock your computer.’

I pretended to follow her step-by-step process, which included pressing a certain combination of keys on the keyboard, downloading software, and entering codes into a prompt.

Then I realized the loud background noise was a call center. Other alleged scammers gave callers the exact same steps I went through.

The process involved a lot of back and forth and verification. She kept asking what was happening on my screen and reading back the messages that popped up. This is how she finally found out that I wasn’t really following her.

“I know you’re playing, so you can go play in the playground,” she said. “Don’t waste my time here.”

I have called over 40 different numbers of alleged scammers. Many did not answer or the numbers were no longer in service. When I identified myself as a reporter and asked them why they were scamming people, almost everyone hung up on me or called me a liar, except for one person.

He said he called about five to ten times on weekdays, but when I asked him if he worked alone or in a call center, he hung up.

“Um, I’m not supposed to be present for this conversation,” he said.

Here’s the full conversation with the scammers.

The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) tracks fraud cases, but does not have data on cases against victims under the age of 65. However, the agency says scammers use similar methods regardless of the victim’s age.

“They want to convey that sense of urgency and how important it is because they want that emotional response from you,” said Owen Scott, a lieutenant with the Colorado Springs Police Department. “Whatever they ask you to do, they make it sound like it’s happening immediately. So they want you to do it right away. If you don’t do that, you’re going to have a lot of problems.”

Scott said he wasn’t surprised that young adults are more likely to be scammed than seniors. In fact, he said the agency has seen an increase in scams targeting teens, especially with the growth of social media. According to the FTC, social media scams were responsible for the most losses in 2023, totaling $1.4 billion.

“The internet and technology in general has made it harder because there are so many different ways (scammers) can attack and there are also so many different ways you can move money,” Scott said.

Both the FTC and CSPD say to look out for certain warning signs, including people asking for gift cards or Bitcoin and when people try to rush you into making quick decisions.

“When you get excited, nervous and scared, you can’t think rationally,” Scott said. “That’s what they’re after: for you to make hasty, sudden decisions and send them the money. By the time you think about it, “Should I really have done that?” It is too late.”

Whiting learned this the hard way and now has his own advice to avoid getting scammed.

“If you have any doubts, hang up,” he said. “They come to your door. If they are legit, if they really need you, they will find you.