A computer scam involving Facebook, the Lions Club International Foundation, Walmart and UPS is making the rounds — and Ruth Tarantino wants others to be aware so they don’t get caught up in it.
The 92-year-old Harbor woman said a hacker got into her Facebook account and told her she was the “winner” of a $90,000 grant — issued by Lions Club International Foundation, a branch of the service organization.
Tarantino said a man calling himself Mark Dennis told her via Facebook messaging that she needed to buy 10, $100 iTunes gift cards from Walmart and call him back so he could arrange for UPS to pick them up and exchange the cards for the grant money.
“It’s really unfortunate; there’s so many scams that (prey on) people, said Lions spokesman Dane La Joye, adding that he hadn’t heard of this scam. “I feel really bad when I hear these stories.”
The Lions Club does have grant programs, but this is not how they are operated, said Edward Hambrick, a technical support official with Lions Club International. “It can be really elaborate, especially on Facebook because they’re acting like a friend.”
He said those accessed through Facebook accounts need to report it to the social media company.
“If that scam’s going around, it needs to be shut down right away,” said Brookings Lions Club President Pam Deraita. “That’s not how the Lions Club works.”
Walmart, too, is routinely “involved” in the scams, as the company sells a wide array of gift cards, many of which are as good as cash. And while UPS does pick up packages from residences, a representative could not be reached by phone to determine if the company is affected by many scams.
“I suspected it immediately,” Tarantino said. “I knew right away it was a scam.”
But not before she had supplied the hacker with an array of information, including her name, birth date, address, email address and gender. She drew the line when the “application” asked for her monthly income.
“Congratulations, maam,” the first one read. “You are eligible for the Lions Grant fund offer. Forward all the information to the UPS for delivery of your grant.” Others read, “Kindly make your payment so the delivery team can be on the way to deliver to you,” and “What are you going with the money if likely you found eligible for it?”
Because the scammer was able to access her Facebook account, similar messages started going out to her friends — both locally and afar.
Tarantino doesn’t want others to fall victim — particularly older people who can be prone to believing such scams. She called Brookings police who referred her to the county; she eventually ended up filing a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office and alerted her credit card companies, as well. That office receives about 55,000 reports of scams every year, its website said.
She’s most annoyed because the man who calls himself Mark Dennis keeps Facebook messaging her to prompt her to purchase the gift cards. When she tried to call him back to get more information, no one answered. Calls from the Pilot also were not answered. Tarantino has saved all the messages on her computer.
She did, however, leave a message at that number, and was called back within about five minutes.
“I was pumping him, getting all kinds of information,” she said. “I told him I have the flu and can’t make a connection until this weekend. But it’s Friday. He says he wants to talk with me. I can’t get rid of him.”
Anyone who suspects they are being preyed on by a scammer should call the Oregon Department of Justice at 877-877-9392, or fill out a scam report at https://justice.oregon.gov/consumercomplaints.