(CBS News) — The Department of Justice is filing for temporary restraining orders against U.S. telecom carriers allegedly facilitating hundreds of millions of scam robocalls. Americans are losing millions of dollars a year because of the calls, which usually originate in India.
The most common scam is, according to the Senate, which will hold a hearing Wednesday on the topic. In the past three months, the Social Security Administration said they’ve gotten more than 115,000 complaints about the scam.
Machel Andersen and her husband Kyle, a Utah state representative, became the victims of one of those scams, losing $150,000. They know many people won’t be able to believe this could happen to them, but said they hope their experience could help others avoid being scammed.
“It truly is embarrassing. I’m embarrassed, really embarrassed,” Machel said.
The scam started in December when Machel said she got calls claiming her Social Security number had been compromised and had been “used to set up multiple bank accounts associated with a drug cartel.”
She said a man claiming to be a DEA investigator then said her family was in danger.
“He continued to talk to me about the danger that my family was in if I didn’t cooperate, that these people were very dangerous, that they were watching me,” she said. “That I needed to do what I was told and not tell anyone.”
She said he told her she needed to transfer all the money in the family’s bank accounts “to an off-shore account that would be safe, before the fraudulent accounts were seized, or she would lose all of [their] money.”
To prove it, he sent her what he said was a warrant for her arrest, for drug trafficking and money laundering, that would be used if she didn’t show full cooperation.
“I drove to the credit union and I transferred all of our money into our checking. We had CDs, I cashed them in. I paid the penalties,” Machel said.
Over a week, she wired $150,000. It was only after the scammer asked her to take out a mortgage on their home that the light finally dawned and she told her husband.
“She said, ‘I have given away every penny that we have,'” Kyle said. “I felt like throwing up. I just felt this gut punch and I felt sick.”
“I was asked by someone, ‘How could you be so stupid?’ But at the time that I was going through it, it was very real,” Machel said.
Many others know exactly how Machel felt. Seniors have lost nearly $38 million to the scam, Maine Senator Susan Collins said.
“As our population ages, the matter’s only going to get worse,” she said. “Oftentimes our seniors are embarrassed when they realize that they’ve been ripped off and they’re too ashamed to admit that they’ve lost their life savings to a scammer. They shouldn’t be embarrassed. They should report this.”
The Andersons say they’ll survive the dollar loss, but others may not.
“We don’t want anyone else to go through this,” Machel said. “A lot of people since this has happened to us have gotten those calls and called us and said, ‘I just got a Social Security call, what should I do?’ And we say, ‘Hang up.'”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation put out a warning Tuesday saying scammers are now spoofing the FBI’s phone number, so it looks like their calling from the agency. The scammers tell people their Social Security number has been suspended and in order to reinstate it, they must give them gift cards.
“These calls are fraudulent; any legitimate law enforcement officer will not demand cash or gift cards from a member of the public,” the FBI said.