Bev Burnett has always enjoyed taking a bit of gamble. Quick trips to the casino allowed her to escape for a bit. She even hit a $10,000 winner in Louisiana, but never the giant jackpot, which may be why when the phone rang in January she ignored the red flags.
“You know I just, I wanted it to happen so bad, to be true, I went with it,” she said.
The man on the line said he was with the IRS and she had won a $1.8 million sweepstakes but never collected. He mentioned she had been sent some letters about taxes and winning several years ago and she recalled receiving something.
She bought gift cards, passing on the numbers to Mark, the man who called. She passed on credit card and social security information. She opened new bank accounts, and became one of the thousands of Texans over 60 to become a victim of financial fraud.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Steve Benton with The Senior Source in Dallas. “And it’s only getting worse.”
Benton said 10% of clients at the agency have been subjected to financial fraud. They launched a Financial Safety Center several years ago to address it.
More than 60% of their cases are family related, and most are never reported.
In a report last month, the FBI found there were 6,342 Texans over 60 who were victims of fraud in 2020. The state ranked only behind California and Florida.
The tactics — sweepstakes wins, romance scams, a grandchild in trouble — are always changing. CBS 11 News producers connected Burnett with Benton after hearing her story, and her situation provided another new twist.
“The scammers were able to hack into her online social security account and redirect her monthly social security payment to another bank,” Benton said. “That was very unique. I hadn’t seen that before.”
Without any income, Burnett’s situation advanced to the point she needed the assistance of a food bank. Her car insurance canceled her policy because she couldn’t pay. In June, her power provider threatened to shut off her electricity.
When her daughter called her to get details so she could pay the bill to keep her air conditioning running, Burnett answered the call as she was getting into an ambulance, with symptoms of a possible stroke, that she believes the ordeal contributed to.
With Benton’s contacts he was able to help retrieve the last two social security checks that Burnett hadn’t received when the fraud was reported, and her accounts frozen. They still have to see if they can recover another check, that was sent to a new account. Money from gift cards she purchased, and other payments, is gone.
Embarrassment, Benton said, is usually the reason most victims don’t report or even talk about what happens.
In this case though, Burnett said she wanted it out there, “and get people aware of what is going on.”