Phone scammers have had a lot of success cheating Americans out of billions of dollars, and they might have even more luck this year, with experts estimating at least half of all cellphone calls in 2019 will be from scammers. Senior citizens have been especially vulnerable, but in the case of William Webster and Lynda Webster, the scammer couldn't have picked a worse target.
In 2014, William got a call from a man who told him he'd won a grand prize, but he'd have to pay a tax up front to claim the money. Lynda also took a call from the scammer that got very heated: When she said she was onto him, he came back with threats, saying he knew where she lived and could set the house "ablaze" and kill her.
What the scammer didn’t know was William wasn’t your average retiree. He’s the only man who has ever served as the director of both the FBI and the CIA. So naturally he got the FBI involved.
The man behind behind the calls, a Jamaican named Keniel Thomas, had applied for a visa a few times, and the phone number on those forms was a match. “We were able to use the telephone number he listed on his visa application to tie him to the times of the telephone that was making the threats,” Matthew DeSarno, Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s Washington field office, told VICE News. But due to Thomas’s residency in Jamaica, the agency hadn't been able to extradite him.
But last year, the FBI got a lucky break when Thomas boarded a flight to New York. After passing through customs, Thomas was arrested and eventually sentenced to six years in prison, after which he will be deported to Jamaica. Thomas didn’t get any money out of the Websters, but he did manage to steal an estimated $300,000 from other Americans.
This segment originally aired February 20, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.