Victim of scam using United Way’s name: ‘Don’t be scared to stop it’

CARMEL, Ind. - There are a lot of people out there who want to scam you, and the latest version of a popular scam uses a major non-profit's name.

A woman named Meriel, who asked the CBS4 Problem Solvers not to use her last name, reported the scam. She said a Carmel police officer helped her print out all of her messages and encouraged her to report it to help people from falling victim.

Meriel was contacted by a Facebook friend on Messenger, who was most likely hacked, who asked her, "Have you gotten the cash benefits from United Way and Facebook Inc. delivered to you?"

When she asked for more information, the friend said she had received thousand of dollars, and Meriel was on the list to receive money, too.

"She’s a friend of mine on Facebook and you’re seeing United Way, so for the first three minutes you do believe it," Meriel said.

The friend pointed her to another Facebook user, who said he was the claims manager and told Meriel, "Your profile page was among a few pages randomly selected to received the cash benefit."

The catch, though, came later. Meriel was supposed to pay a $1,250 administration fee in order to receive a whopping $50,000 in cash.

"The higher (the) money, the more you had to pay in administration fees," Meriel said.

Tim Maniscalo, with the Better Business Bureau, told CBS4 that this is a classic sweepstakes scam.

You will never be contacted randomly to receive money via Facebook, and you should never pay a fee in order to receive money. Once you pay the fee, you'll get nothing in return.

"We really want people to report (these) scams because the more informed people are, the less likely you are to fall for a scam," Maniscalo said.

The scammers tried to negotiate with Meriel, first asking for $900, and later $300. They also played to her heartstrings, saying "We're so blessed to be among the few selected."

A United Way of Central Indiana spokesperson said the scam was concerning, and sent CBS4 this statement:

“Please be aware that United Way does not offer what has been reported as a “Cash Benefits” sweepstakes, contest or promotion – on Facebook or any social media platform. As stated by the Federal Trade Commission, paying money to collect a cash prize is a scam. If anyone in our community is contacted by someone offering a cash award on behalf of United Way, please do not give out your personal information and notify us at (317) 923-1466 or community@uwci.org.”

According to the FTC, Indiana ranks 28th in the nation for reporting scams. It's most recent compiling of data found this list of top-reported scams in the state:

  1. Debt collection
  2. Imposter scams
  3. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries
  4. Auto-related complaints
  5. Banks and lenders

If you receive a scam, even if you don't fall for it, you are encouraged to report it. You can do that with the FTC at the link here, the Indiana Attorney General's Office at the link here, and the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker at the link here.

Meriel agreed that she hoped more people would report scams like this, even if it seems impossible to catch the scammers.

"They’re getting by with it because people won’t be aggressive and help go after them," Meriel said. "You’ve got to be a warrior today and ... don’t be scared to share it."

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