Small fee strategy: Identity thief poses as utility company to target elderly

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ST. LOUIS — It's a small payment with a big consequence. One identity thief's unique strategy managed to rake in thousands.

"She will pose herself as either she's from a utility company or a telephone company, wireless company and she'll tell the elderly victim that,  'hey, you know, you have a nominal fee — like $4.55 — you owe in order for your service not to be shut off today. You got to go ahead and pay it,'" explained U.S. Postal Inspector Jamie Portell.

The caller then offered to take the victim's credit card information.

"She tries to use social engineering just to obtain other personal identifying information whether it be date of birth, social security number, all those types of things," Portell said.

Once she had the information, the thief called the victim's credit card company.

"She adds herself on as an authorized user. She changes the billing address and has a second card mailed to her and then from there she'll go out and make fraudulent purchases underneath that person's credit card," revealed Portell.

More than 70 victims were conned out of thousands of dollars.

"She's made over $100,000 doing this scam in a matter of a couple of years. So no reason to go out and work when you can make that kind of money just talking on the phone," Portell said.

Postal inspectors say the suspect's strategy is what led to the large number of victims.

"The reason being is most people are more likely to say, 'oh okay, I'll go ahead and pay that right now. I have $4.22 on my bank card.' So that way they are going to use something small that you are more willing to say, 'oh I'm going to pay that right now and be done so I don't lose my service,'" Portell said.

If you receive call from someone asking for your credit card number — hang up and call them back.

"A company is not going to just call you and say…'we're going to shut your service off today' without you knowing that already, like being late on a bill," said Portell.

If you think something strange is going on with your credit card — check it out!

Many people make looking at their statements part of their weekly routine and some even do it daily by looking at their accounts online.