Springfield woman once burned has learned to spot scams quickly

Ona Heath shares her story to serve as warning for others.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Sometimes those who have been scam victims don’t share their stories.

Sometimes they don’t want family members to ever know that they were swindled out of money. Sometimes they are very embarrassed they were too trusting of a stranger.

Sometimes — much like victims of sexual assault, spousal abuse and child abuse — they blame themselves and feel unworthy of compassion or sympathy.

This isn’t one of those times. Ona Heath is willing to talk about her experience in hopes it will serve as a warning to others.

It’s been years since the 75-year-old Springfield native received a phone call and request for help that has served as a lasting warning ever since.

At the time of the call, Heath was the perfect victim for a scam artist to exploit.

She had lost her husband of 47 years just a year or so before she received the call. She was still grieving and adjusting to life without the man she’d married at age 17.

She was sympathetic to and vulnerable to someone with a story as full of sorrow as her own.

“A person called on the phone and said he needed money. He was begging for my help,” Heath said. “It sounded like he was going to die if I didn’t help. That’s how I took it. He told me he was overseas somewhere and was in trouble. He needed to get back to the United States.”

Heath didn’t ask a lot of questions. She had money left over from her husband’s funeral. Happy she could help someone out of a difficult situation, she went to Walmart and arranged for a money transfer just as the man asked her to.

“I sent him the $2,000 he needed,” she said. “I wanted to help him. I just gave him the money. I never heard from him again.”

Heath is lucky on that count.

Strong skepticism

For some scam artists the initial successful transfer of money is just the beginning of a long and, for the thief, financially fruitful relationship. For the victim, it can mean financial ruin, family estrangement and often mental and emotional devastation.

Heath learned the hard way with her experience after the death of her husband. She’s developed a strong skepticism when answering the phone these days and is feisty in protecting her financial well-being.

“My money is important to me because that’s all I have to live on,” she said.

Recently someone called, identified themselves as being with the Social Security Administration and needed to verify her Social Security number and some other personal information. They started asking questions, and Heath recognized immediately they were not who they claimed to be.

She told them: “You’re not with Social Security or you’d already have that information.”

Then she promptly reported the call to the Social Security office.

More recently, another call followed the same script as her first experience, but tried to tell her it was a family member who needed her help.

She explained: “A guy called the other day. He knew my last name. He asked if this is Mrs. Heath and I said yes. He said, ‘Your son is in trouble and he needs money to get out of trouble.’”

Heath knew from the start it was a scam. She had lost her only son in a car accident in 1996.

“I told him, ‘I don’t have a son. My son died. If you want to try to get money from somebody, why don’t you call the sheriff’s office. Maybe they can help you,’ " she said.

“That’s when he hung up on me,” she said, satisfied she’d spoiled yet another scam effort.

She hopes by sharing her story, she will help to spoil more of them.

Tips to avoid being scammed

The Ohio Attorney General’s office warns residents to beware of the following phone scam ploys:

• If contacted by someone claiming to be from a government agency, bank, tech support company or online retailer, do not provide any personal information or click on any online links

• Never respond to unexpected requests for personal information received through a phone call or text

• If you think the call might be legitimate, hang up and use the company’s official website to call back and verify if the call originated from them

• Never grant an unknown or unsolicited caller access to your phone or computer or download software at their direction

Red flags to watch for include:

• Being pressured to act immediately

• Callers asking for payment by gift card, wire transfer, prepaid money order or money card, or cryptocurrency

• Caller asks you not to tell friends or family about the conversation

• Callers who tell you you’ve won something you didn’t enter to win or you’re unexpectedly being given money

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