Northeast Ohio woman loses $15,000 to gift card scam; didn’t know she was a victim until her family intervened

Professionals weigh in on how you can help a loved one who may be a scam victim.
Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 6:24 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Northeast Ohio woman says she was scammed out of thousands of dollars just before the holidays this year.

She says she didn’t even realize it, though, until her family intervened.

Her story is a part of our special report on how you can help a similarly confused loved one.

Judy Newsome answered a call from a number she didn’t know last month.

She quietly up and left her house, following instructions from the man on the other end of the line.

“He told me, don’t let nobody know,” she said.

Her daughter Heather says it only took a few hours for the family to realize, though, that something was terribly wrong.

A huge amount of cash had been withdrawn from Judy’s bank account.

“We honestly thought she was dead,” Heather said.

When they went to the police, officers suggested the possibility that Judy was being scammed.

“I’m like, ‘my mom isn’t that naïve,’” she said.

After checking the local grocery stores, Heather discovered her mom had been in and spent the thousands of dollars she withdrew on gift cards.

“I was like no no no no no, and I knew immediately what was going on from there,” Heather said.

She works at a grocery store and has been taught to spot scams and intervene with strangers if something seems suspicious.

However, no one stopped Judy from making her purchases that day.

Judy says the man who called her had her social security number. He told her that a car registered in her name was found in another state with drugs inside.

“I believed it,” she said.

He wanted money to clear her of any crime, promising she’d be reimbursed when the record was set straight.

“I said ‘my whole family is calling me wondering where I am,’ and he said ‘it’s almost over with,’” she said. “He goes, ‘you’re doing great. It will be taken care of.’”

After giving the scammer the information on the gift cards, Judy returned home.

But, she still wasn’t telling anyone what she’d just been through.

“She just wasn’t herself, really odd. She was like a zombie,” Heather said.

It was all so hard to comprehend.

“I was confused,” Judy said.

Luckily, Newsome’s family was there for her, but it wasn’t easy for anyone.

“It was gut-wrenching,” Heather said. “I was the one that was super angry and frustrated. I was like, ‘Mom! 15 grand?! I yelled.’”

The Newsome’s not only want to warn others about scams targeting vulnerable people this holiday season, but they also want families to know how to approach a loved one who can’t identify the fraud.

Natasha Pietrocola works with the Cuyahoga County Department of adult protective services.

“We handle the exploitation calls that come in,” she said. “You really need to intervene if you see something wrong.”

She says there are signs that your loved one may be involved in a scam.

Many of them turn out to be even longer cons than the one Newsome got caught in.

“When it really becomes a problem for us is when they start to self-neglect,” Pietrocola said. “Dishing out money to these IRS scams, grandparent scams, COVID 19 now scams, they are neglecting to pay for their necessities. So they aren’t paying for rent mortgage, food or medication.”

Pietrocola says exploitation scams are trending up this year in Cuyahoga County.

So, more families are going through what the Newsome’s did.

“They should control their emotions,” Heather Newsome said.

Heather saw first hand how that helped her mother comprehend the situation she was in.

“If you’re not ready to speak to your loved one that was just scammed, you should probably go and calm down,” Heather said. “My mom went through hell that day. Me lashing out on her, definitely didn’t make her feel any better.”

And you should also know that there are people you can call if you need help setting the record straight.

Pietrocola says, “If it gets to a point where you’re unable to intervene successfully, there are agencies like ours that we can get involved with the exploitation police.”

Even then, though, it can be hard to watch victims continue to struggle after being deemed mentally capable of making their own money decisions.

For example, she says there are a few women at the county homeless shelter right now who can’t get back on their feet, because they continue to send all their money to “boyfriends.”

In Judy’s case, she says one of the main reasons she’s able to go forward after losing so much is because her husband was so unbelievably forgiving.

She said, “He said ‘it’s only money. You can replace money, but you can’t replace you.’”

Heather set up a GoFundMe page to help her parents recoup a little of what they lost.

“I’m sorry I put my family through hell that night,” Judy said. “I’ve never done anything like this. I don’t know why I did it.”

If you need to report a scam or need help intervening in your loved one’s case, you can call our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad at 216-443-7035. Someone will be able to point you toward your next step.

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