KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo woman was almost scammed by someone posing as her nephew, who is incarcerated.
Sue Cutler eventually found out her nephew actually wasn’t behind the email requesting money.
“Back in March, I received a weird email,” said Cutler.
Her nephew is stationed in a Florida prison. They email through a protected system to keep in touch. In one message, though, Cutler noticed a red flag.
“’Can you send me some pictures and some money so I can grab a food bag here?’ And I was like, ‘You’ve never asked me for money before and I don’t think this is your style of writing,’” said Cutler.
She sent the email to her nephew.
“He actually encouraged me to try and contact Securus by phone and tell them it had been hacked,” she said.
Securus Technologies is a company that provides electronic messaging services to 3,400 correctional facilities across the United States. While the Kent County jail isn’t included, several other facilities in West Michigan use their services.
Using Securus, the scammer had requested Cutler send the money through Cash App, an app that would need to be downloaded on a cell phone. Usually, inmates don’t have access to a cell phone and money-transferring apps.
Scammers can be tricky and prey on emotions or misunderstandings.
“I just assumed it was the Cash App in the system,” Cutler said. “I’m not really technologically savvy.”
In Cash App, users have to have a person’s account name, Cash App tag, phone number or email. Cutler said she did not have that information for her nephew.
News 8 reached out to Securus Technologies, which requested more time to investigate. Cutler reached out too.
“I did send them an email, but I haven’t heard anything back from them,” she said.
What originally tipped Cutler off was the way the scammer was communicating, pretending to be her nephew.
“He’s never asked for money. So that was the kicker. I’m like, excuse me? That’s very strange,” she said.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office says these types of digital scams are common. Deputies warn the public to spot red flags like Cutler did and cut off contact.
“They could be from the jail, they could just be any solicitor that is trying to gain information from someone. Typically what they find is that they are asking for money, gift cards or personal information,” said Kent County Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt.
The sheriff’s office says to be cautious.
“If it’s an email, if it’s a solicitation, if there is any concern whatsoever that this person may not be who they claim to be, I would always end that conversation, not respond and then independently reach out to that person through the appropriate manner,” said DeWitt.
“Be aware and be careful … and if something feels wrong it probably is and check it out,” advised Cutler.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office also warns people to verify who they are corresponding with by calling the facility directly, or sending a letter in the mail.