Imagine this: You get home after a day of work and get a call on the phone. Congratulations! the voice on the other end tells you. That sweepstakes you entered? You won! But just one thing -- you've gotta pay a little bit of cash, called an "insurance fee," first.
Promises of millions of dollars? "Insurance fees"? Obvious scam, right? Well, yeah. But there is one group with that perfect blend of naivete, trust, and lack of technological know-how to get fooled: the elderly. And get fooled they did.
St. Paul's Warren Tonsing Jr., and his accomplice, Glen Adkins Jr., took full advantage of that naivete, stealing more than $4 million from victims over the course of a few years. But this week, they're finally paying the price. They were finally sentenced for their crimes, 25 year for Adkins and about half that for Tonsing.
Based on documents in court, the two deserved it. They were, quite simply, not good people.
It all started in 2009, when Tonsing flew all the way down to Puerto Rico with Adkins, where they worked their scam-filled black magic out of a call center. Tonsing was the "opener," calling up each of his elderly victims with a cursory "hello" and a "congratulations!" They'd won a sweepstakes for millions of dollars! But in order to get that money, they'd have to wire over a few thousand first, as a "refundable insurance fee." Once that happened, the money was theirs.
But of course these victims wouldn't trust just anybody. They needed to check in with the government to make sure this was all legit. Or, in this case, the "government."
Tonsing gave victims certain Washington, D.C., phone numbers to make it look like they were calling the federal government to verify the authenticity. But the numbers redirected to Puerto Rico -- to the very same call center. Members of Tonsing's organization would pick up the phone, disguise themselves as government officials, and validate the sweepstakes winnings. Soon, thousands of dollars were flowing in.
And once they caught a little old lady willing to fork over thousands, Adkins took over and kept on reaching for more. After keeping the dough, they'd make up other excuses. Like: "Oh, you actually won first prize! But that requires you to give us more money." Or: "Oh no, the cash didn't go through the first time. Can you send over the $3,000 again? Then you'll get your money. We promise."
Sounds like a variation on that typical "Nigerian Prince" scam, right? The promise of millions of dollars but with a requirement to pony up some cash immediately. But while the old Nigerian scams chased after everybody over email, this plan might have been smarter by baiting your trustworthy grandmother instead.
She doesn't know someone can change their phone number or disguise themselves as a government agent. Sweet and naive, she'd trust Tonsing and Adkins. In total, the two stole more than $4 million.
But no longer. They were caught, and now both lie in jail cells, hopefully thinking hard about what they did.