It started out as a normal April morning for Madeline Sturm. She was working in her downtown Chicago office when all of a sudden the phone rang.
Her brother, Cooper, who lives in Charlotte, needed help.
“Right when I got on the phone an older man was shouting at me saying that my brother Cooper had been in an accident,” Madeline Sturm said.
The men put her brother on the line and Madeline Sturm was able to talk with him long enough to recognize his voice before he disappeared from the call.
Madeline Sturm began to fear for her brother’s safety when the two men on the phone started making demands for hundreds of dollars in cash.
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“And he was like your brother ran over my nephew and left him in the street and drove away,” Madeline Sturm said. “He said I am not going to lie to you, we are drug dealers. My homies caught up with your brother and he's back at my parents, my mom's house, right now. Someone has to pay for what your brother did or he's going to pay with his life.”
Sturm rushed to wire money in hopes the men would free her brother.
The call seemed real to her. While Madeline Sturm was in Chicago, her brother Cooper Sturm was hundreds of miles away in Charlotte. But what the two siblings didn't know was the con-men, probably based in Puerto Rico, somehow had managed to get them both on the phone at the same time so they could hear each other's voices.
Then, the same scam was run on both siblings. And they fell for it.
"If you don't pay $1,000 I will shoot your sister in the head."
“He said my sister was in a hit-and-run,” said Cooper Sturm. “Basically he said if you don't pay $1,000 I will shoot your sister in the head.”
Cooper Sturm fell for the scam too. He wired $600 to an off-shore account.
The brother and sister were out a total of $1,100.
Once they figured that out, they quickly called police.
Investigators say this type of scam is not uncommon and now the Madeline and Cooper Sturm want to send a warning to others. They think others would fall for it.
“Yes, definitely. Just because it's so personal and how they know all of this information and how they can manipulate our phones,” said Madeline Sturm. “Go against your instincts when this is happening would be good advice. You are going to be petrified, completely terrified.”
Local police and the FBI are both investigating, but so far no one has been arrested.
And it's unclear how the scammers were able to obtain the cell phone numbers of the Sturms, but it was an elaborate scheme that worked.
The FBI offers the following tips to help from avoid being a victim:
- Pause and think about the call
- Try to contact your family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
- Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail, especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back.
What to do if you have been a victim
Contact your local police department. You can also contact the FBI's IC3 to file an online Internet crime complaint. IC3, which not only forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but it collates and analyzes the data—looking for common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.