Elgin man loses $13K to bill-paying scam: 'I just fell for the trap'

LendingTree analyst said to be wary of companies reaching out

Jason Knowles Image
Thursday, November 23, 2023
Elgin man loses $13K to bill-paying scam: 'I just fell for the trap'
An Elgin man has lost $13K to a bill-paying scam that started on WhatsApp. A LendingTree analyst said to be wary of companies reaching out.

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Scammers are preying on inflation frustration.

It's a scam that cost one local man $13,000.

The I-Team has a warning Thursday about con artists claiming to help you pay your bills.

As costs continue to soar, there are scammers targeting struggling consumers.

"My bills were piling up," Elgin resident Mohammad Mazher said.

As inflation hung over his head, Mazher was receiving constant texts and calls from a stranger who reached out to him on WhatsApp.

Mazher said the callers told him they could negotiate or lower all of his bills: utility, mortgage, credit card bills - everything.

All he had to do was pay them 60% of the monthly bills. They would cover 40%.

Although it sounded like a deal, it wasn't.

"It's a scam!" Mazher said.

He said they gained his trust by using his native language of Hindi. Then he said the scammers told him to look at a website with an offer to "negotiate bills."

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He sent them a total of $13,000.

"The scheme was they will pay the bills off. I would go check online in my ComEd and utility bills, it says paid off. After three or four days, it would get canceled," Mazher said.

It looked like the bills were being paid, but the payments would get canceled and reversed for "insufficient funds."

"I was mad; I was unhappy," he said.

Now, he's lost thousands of dollars, and those bills are unpaid.

Mazher filed a local police report, and made a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Matt Schultz, a credit analyst at LendingTree, said while there are some legitimate bill negotiation services, you should be cautious when a stranger claiming to be from a company reaches out to you.

"That's a big red flag. Don't be afraid to say, 'Hey, can you give me a number? And I can call you back after I do a little bit of homework on your company?'" Schultz said.

Schultz also said to watch out for companies who put pressure on you to make a quick decision or pay for services upfront.

Consumers should also research websites and check for things like spelling errors before trusting them with large amounts of money.

Mazher said the scammers who reached out to him supplied pictures and identifications so they could get "permission" from companies to pay the bills.

"Like, the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And that can certainly be the case in a lot of these times, with scammers around, debt, consolidation and other financial issues," Schultz said.

Experts say legitimate bill negotiation companies will get paid by taking a portion of the money you save, or charge you a small monthly fee.

"I just fell for the trap," Mazher said.

They'll never pay large sums of money upfront.

If you decide to use a service like this, make sure to research online reviews and get references.