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New phone scam circulating in Colorado Springs allows crooks to steal money right in front of you

Person using cell phone.
Person using cell phone.(Pixabay)
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 8:03 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - How often has this happened to you? You’re waiting in line for coffee, you’re grocery shopping, you’re at a park. A stranger walks up: their phone died, they desperately need to make a call. You hand your phone over, and it’s given back a minute later. The stranger walks off and you continue your day.

Unfortunately, crooks know just how common this scenario is, and they’re taking advantage of it through a new scam making the rounds in Colorado Springs.

The scam unfolds exactly as laid out above.

“It was an, ‘Excuse me, I’m looking for a friend, my phone is dead, do you mind if I borrow your phone?’ and then the person says OK, they unlock their phone and hand it over,” said Detective Raymond Wetzel with CSPD’s Financial Crimes Unit.

And with the victim’s phone in hand, the crook is able to get to work.

“The suspect will point the phone towards his face, pretend to call a number -- maybe actually dial a number so the sound, you know, on a speakerphone so the person can hear their phone being dialed. But in between hitting numbers, they’re also opening their Venmo account and making a number of unauthorized transactions to multiple recipient accounts,” Wetzel explained.

It only takes seconds, he added.

Springs police first caught wind of the scam in February when several UCCS students fell victim.

“By and large our victims were late teens, early 20s. We did have at least one victim who is in their late 20s that was also a student at UCCS. ... Initially it was primarily centered around UCCS, either on campus or off-campus student housing complexes,” Wetzel said.

But more recently, the crooks have started targeting the general public

“But lately we’ve noticed who we believe to be the same suspect pulling the same scam on people up along the Powers corridor at restaurants, and the age and gender range is across the map.”

Wetzel told 11 News detectives have still not discerned how the suspect or suspects are choosing their targets.

“We’re not sure why he picks the people that he does, but we’ve seen evidence where he seems to evaluate people and then make a decision whether or not he’s going to scam them.”

The transactions tend to be at least a couple hundred dollars, with some as high as $1,500. In most cases, the victims have been able to recover their stolen money, either from their bank or Venmo.

The best way to avoid falling victim to this scam or similar is to not hand over your phone.

“Dial the phone and then keep it on speaker, in your possession, allows the person to make the call while you hold the phone. If they’re not comfortable with that or if any point you’re not comfortable, break contact and leave,” Wetzel said.

The Colorado Springs Police Department confirmed Monday that it has identified a suspect in the scam, an individual who is currently in custody in another city for committing similar crimes. Wetzel said it’s possible there are more suspects out there.

“We believe the possibility exists, we don’t believe that we have identified every suspect, especially in this kind of crime where the suspect is casting a large net. So we’d like to be able to identify other victims of either this person or similar.”

Detectives are asking anyone who believes they were a victim of this scam to come forward. Wetzel said this will further help them build a case against the person in custody or identify other people carrying out this scam. To contact the police department, call 719-444-7000 and reference case number 22-05946.

“This is a simple scam but has a tremendous impact on its victims. The suspect can scam the victim right in front of them without them knowing what is going on, all while the victim is trying to be a good Samaritan,” he said. “Our goal is to care and serve our community. Nobody should have to experience this type of crime, and we want to do everything we can to hold the suspect accountable and provide support and justice for our victims.”

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