Stuck in the Philippines, eh? E-mail scammers squirm when asked the right questions


by Joe Conger / KENS 5

Posted on May 10, 2012 at 11:04 AM

SAN ANTONIO -- It was one e-mail too many that got through the spam filter: Patrick Greene, of Pat’s Taxi Service in San Antonio, apparently knows me.

He said he got stuck in the Philippines. He said he needs my help. But really, he just wants my money.

“We were mugged on our way back to the hotel. I need you to help me out with a loan to settle my bills here so we can get back home, our return flight leaves soon,” his e-mail said.

His dilemma just begged for a response from the I-Team. According to Western Union, scammers like Green hang out in Internet cafes and send out hundreds of emails, hoping someone -- anyone -- takes the bait.

Joanne Woodruff, with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, said too many elderly take the bait.

"With the money being wired by Western Union or someone like that, it can be picked up anywhere in the world by someone, and then that's just gone. The money is gone and there is no suspect to file a case on,” said Woodruff, who works on the district attorney’s Elder Fraud Unit.

Meanwhile, Greene made several checks from a computer café in Mandaluyong City in the Philippines, waiting for the wire transfer we sent through Western Union that we filled at a local HEB.

HEB officials said they’ve seen their share of these scams, usually targeting senior citizens who suddenly hear from long-lost grandchildren.

"Sometimes phone calls, sometimes they will get an e-mail. Those are the primary ways they'll get contacted,” said Lucy Gonzalez, as she took wire transfers at the customer service counter.

Gonzalez said the alleged “grandchildren” –- or friends like Patrick Greene -- need money fast.

"Most stories are they are sending to a family member," she said. "They got in an accident. They’re in jail or something in the Philippines or India. Those are just a few that I have experienced.”

HEB officials said their employees are trained to ask more questions in order to get the would-be victim to rethink before sending what can amount to thousands of dollars.

They even warned us.

“We just want to make sure that whoever is sending the money isn't doing something that's going to harm them," Gonzalez said.

The I-Team ignored the warning and sent some money anyway.

“I’m trying to remember when I last met you. Was it last year at that party with my wife?”  I wrote in an e-mail response to Greene.

But Greene wouldn’t answer personal questions in the six hours we e-mailed each other. And he wasn’t too happy when he checked the wire transfer online.

In broken English, his email said:

“They showed me here at there system, It is 1.85 $ not 1,850$ I am freaked out here,they even told me to track it online and i did but when i tracked it with the amount 1.85 $ it said money is ready to be picked up,Please try it yourself. I am tired of all this all mess right now.”

Yes, the I-Team had moved the decimal point: $1,850 became $1.85. It cost us $5 to send less than $2 across the world.

I told him it was the best $1.85 I ever spent, and that I hope it took up enough of his time to keep him from scamming others.

We simply never heard from Patrick Greene again, just like we’d never see that $1.85 ever again.