Homeless Targeted by Cellphone Scam

The victims end up with hundreds or thousands of dollars of debt, making their situation even more desperate.

As if life on the street isn’t tough enough, a cellphone scam is destroying homeless people’s credit and racking up huge debts in their names.

Scammers prey on the down and out, convincing the homeless to sign up for multi-phone cellphone contracts, CNN Money says. The scammers keep the phones and sell them “on the streets, online or abroad.”

The homeless people are paid a pittance, maybe $50 or $100. Meanwhile, hundreds or thousands of dollars in charges are racked up on the cellphones, which are in the names of the homeless victims. No one pays the bills, and their credit goes down the drain.

Joe Ridout, a manager at Consumer Action, told CNN:

This is one of the most heartless scams I’ve ever seen. They’re preying on a person’s desperation and making the prospects of that person improving their livelihood much worse by destroying their credit rating — causing them to face barriers getting a job, getting an apartment.

Law enforcement said the scammers are hitting cities across the nation, according to Boise, Idaho-based KTVB. Tom Shuler of the Boise Police Department said that even when a scammer is caught, it’s difficult to charge them with anything because the homeless people willingly bought the phones.

It’s hard enough for homeless people to get back on their feet, and this scam is exacerbating the problem. Shuler recalled a woman who fell for the scam last summer, and now has more than $5,000 in cellphone bills in her name.

“She’s trying to get housing, and she thinks that’s what’s holding up her housing is she’s got this horrible credit with these huge bills just from those cellphones she bought doing the same thing,” Shuler said.

Stacy Johnson

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