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Claremonter cautions local seniors about Facebook scam

For Jan Wheatcroft, what started as an innocuous message on Facebook from a neighbor turned into something more sinister.

The longtime Claremont resident, who is a regular columnist for the COURIER, received a Facebook message recently from an acquaintance that lives across the street, asking Ms. Wheatcroft if she “heard about the good news yet.”

Ms. Wheatcroft was puzzled. “Why didn’t she walk across the street to say hi?” she remembers wondering.

The good news the neighbor wanted to share, as it turns out, was a supposed $50,000 reward from the federal government for people who needed help paying their bills.

“Did you get yours from them??” the neighbor wrote.

The news sounded too good to be true, and Ms. Wheatcroft was curious about the windfall her neighbor received.

“The fact that I know her made me want to pay attention,” she said.

The neighbor, in broken English, explained Ms. Wheatcroft was on a list to receive the money as well. “I saw your name on the list and profile pics when the ups [sic] men came to deliver my win money at my doorstep,” she wrote.

She told Ms. Wheatcroft to message another person named “Ellis Sandra Diane” to coordinate the payment.

Ms. Wheatcroft repeatedly asked her friend to call her, but the “friend” claimed that her attorney had her phone “bcos [sic] so many people are asking me for loan when they heard about the winnings and the disturbance is too much.”

Ms. Wheatcroft was confused. Who is the organization behind this payment? Why would she win? Who is Ellis Sandra Diane? The friend claimed the payment was “real and legit,” but was it?

She messaged the mysterious Ms. Diane, whose Facebook profile had no friends and the Pledge of Allegiance as a cover photo.

“Ellis Sandra Diane,” typing in all capital letters, asked Ms. Wheatcroft for her personal information—including age, address and a picture of her drivers’ license.

She also asked Ms. Wheatcroft for a one-time payment of $700 through Western Union.

At this point, Ms. Wheatcroft figured out it was a scam. It wasn’t her friend at all who messaged her, rather an unknown scammer who was trying to extort money from her.

She called her friend, who confirmed that she never messaged Ms. Wheatcroft at all, nor did she win $50,000. Her profile page, which she hadn’t used in over a year, appeared to have been hacked.

With the scam uncovered, Ms. Wheatcroft was still curious. “It was like a mystery novel,” she said. “I just wanted to see what would happen.”

She messaged Ellis Sandra Diane, expressing her doubts about the whole operation. Ellis, still typing in all capital letters, claimed she was “A FEARING WOMAN OF GOD AND AM NOT HERE FOR GAMES. YOU JUST HAVE TO TRUST AND BE HONEST WITH ME OKAY MRS. JAN.” 

Ms. Wheatcroft didn’t send the money, and ignored Ellis’ repeated pleas for her cooperation. She called the police, who told her that scammers routinely target elderly people, hoping to make a quick buck through lies and deceit.

A similar scam involves someone posing as a grandchild or family member who is locked away in a foreign jail.

The scammer would tell the victim to wire money, usually through Western Union or by buying thousands of dollars worth of gift cards and reading the card numbers over the phone. By the time the victim figures out the ruse, it’s too late.

Ms. Wheatcroft wants others to know about the scam, in case they fall victim too.

“You don’t get money for nothing, that’s not how it works,” Ms. Wheatcroft said.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com