3 people in Chapel Hill scammed out of more than $73,000 in a matter of days

Diane Wilson Image
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
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Three people living in Chapel Hill lost more than $73,000 in a matter of days. All three fell victim to different scams.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Three people living in Chapel Hill lost more than $73,000 in a matter of days. All three fell victim to different scams.

"These scammers are really good. That's why they keep doing these scams," Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said.

Police said the first victim, a man in his 70s, lost $35,000 in what's known as the gift card scam. The scammer called the victim and convinced him that to resolve an issue with his bank card, he had to buy gift cards and read the numbers off the back. He bought the gift cards at several businesses throughout Chapel Hill over several days, and in total gave the scammer access to $35,000 worth of gift cards, draining his bank account while buying the cards.

The second scam also started with a phone call.

"Portrayed themselves as a friend who was in trouble and they said they needed $18,000 which the senior sent and then the next day call back and said I need another $15,000, still in trouble. The senior sent it," Blue said.

The victim, a man in his 80s, lost a total of $33,000 thinking he was helping a friend who was in trouble with the law.

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"It's not that people are dumb, it's that people are good, and they want to try to do right by their friends and family," Blue said.

With the first $15,000, according to police, the scammer actually went to the victim's home to pick up the cash. When it comes to the $18,000, the victim got that amount of money from his bank and mailed the cash to California.

The victim in the third case is much younger -- in her 20s. She told investigators that the scammer's phone showed up on caller ID as being from Chapel Hill Police, and the caller claimed he was actually Chief Blue.

The scammer, pretending to be Chief Blue, told the young woman that he had received a package with drugs and contraband in it. If the woman would transfer funds to a bitcoin account, the investigation into the suspicious package would disappear.

She followed the instructions by withdrawing more than $5,000 from her bank account and depositing it into an account via a Bitcoin ATM.

"You can go and make a deposit into one of these Bitcoin ATMs direct it to a certain identified account and poof your money is going to be gone," Chief Blue said.

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Bitcoin ATMs, while they are a legitimate way to buy and send bitcoin, scammers are capitalizing on it. Bitcoin ATMs can be found at gas stations and other businesses, like one Troubleshooter Diane Wilson found in Cary at the Royal Tobacco Vape and Vapor shop.

Christian Gibson said the Bitcoin ATMs are a safe way to buy cryptocurrency, but he said people do get scammed if they let their guard down when it comes to their account and money you put into the machine.

"Don't ever give your information out to staff support, don't ever give it out to emails, or phone calls," Gibson said.

The machines do not dispense cash, instead, they connect to the bitcoin network and allow people to purchase crypto tokens with cash.

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Unfortunately, like in the Chapel Hill case, once you put your cash into the machine and send the bitcoin to the scammer, it's gone.

"That's a very difficult and almost untraceable way for someone to get your money," Chief Blue said.

Chief Blue said his department is investigating all three crimes. They're also working on educating employees at banks and stores on how to pick up on these scams when a victim comes in. The best thing you can do is check in on your friend and family and talk to them about how these scams. Remember, you should never have to pay any money, especially with gift cards -- and now bitcoin -- to help someone or get yourself out of trouble.