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Woman Lost Last $100 After Wiring It To Scammers Who Claimed They’d Kidnapped Her Cousin – CBS Chicago



CHICAGO (CBS) — Suppose you got a call saying a drug cartel had kidnapped your cousin – and to save her, you need to send money, right away.

What would you do?

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It is all actually a scary scam that cost a Chicago woman in a big way. CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas unraveled what happened.

Helping family is second nature for Helen Presley.

“I am a home care aide for my grandmother,” Presley said.

So when she got a call saying her cousin was kidnapped, she put her cleaning on pause at grandma’s house.

“They said: ‘Don’t call anybody else. Don’t do anything, because if you do, we’ll assault, sexually assault your cousin,’” Presley said.

A man told Presley to go to the nearest Western Union and transfer thousands of dollars to someone in Mexico, where his supposed cartel was based. But Presley only works part-time and doesn’t have thousands of dollars.

“I was completely terrified,” Presley said. “I didn’t know what to do besides follow their instructions, because I didn’t want her harmed.”

So instead, she sent her last $100. That was money she was saving to fix the damage to her car from a recent storm.

She sat in that same car waiting for the kidnappers to drop her cousin off at a Walgreens. They never did – because they never had her cousin in the first place.

“I waited about an hour or so before I called my cousin – and she said she was fine,” Presley said. “So I realized it was a scam.”

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Then she reached out to Western Union, and learned she could not get a refund.

“It’s heartbreaking, but it’s not surprising,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

McNicholas asked Murray what we could tell people to get them to avoid these kinds of scams.

“Never, ever, ever pay someone that calls you on the phone with gift cards, or wire transfer, or Bitcoin, or anything like that,” Murray said.

But here’s where the water gets murky.

Presley said the call was so convincing because when she first picked up, she thought she was talking to her cousin. She heard a woman with a similar voice who even knew her cousin’s name before the man took the phone.

“They also had my phone number, so it feels like it was somebody that possibly knew me or knew my family,” Presley said.

And that’s a thought she can’t scrub out of her mind.

Our expert tells us if you get a call like that, just hang up and call the family member directly.

We asked Western Union to comment, but they never did.

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On its website, the money giant outlines more than 20 scams, and has a quiz to help you avoid such rip offs.