Florida woman loses $2,000 in ‘spouse spoofing’ phone call. Here’s what to know

Spoofing technique has evolved

ORLANDO, Fla. – When Shawn was startled from her sleep at 3:15 a.m., she saw her husband’s name on her cellphone screen and feared the worst.

He was out of town on a business trip for their shipping company, what could have happened?

“All I heard was a noise on the other end of the line,” she told News 6. “There was a scuffling of sorts and then it sounded like what I thought was my husband crying.”

Shawn, who asked we do not use her last name, is one of the first known targets of a spoofing technique that has evolved from grandparents receiving calls from grandchildren in trouble to spouses being held hostage for money.

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In this case, the call came from a man with “a dialect” demanding money with the assurance that her husband would not be hurt if she wired funds to a bank app account.

“I asked if my husband was OK, I asked if I could talk to him, but this made him irate,” Shawn recalled. “I said, ‘OK, I want to pay what he owes you, just don’t hurt him.’”

Ultimately, she wired funds for $1,500 and $498 through her Zelle account to an account held by a woman she had never heard of, Valeria Lopez.

Security experts tell News 6 a simple verbal failsafe could have stopped the con game in seconds.

“Every family right now needs to have a family password,” Heywood Talcove of Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions said. “I can guarantee you Shawn was not the only person who got that call that night.”

Talcove told News 6 the tactic of predawn phone calls is designed to catch the target off guard.

If the caller cannot produce the password, hang up.

“What we’re seeing right now, particularly from the Nigerians, they call somebody late at night, act like there’s a crisis and try to get money transferred via Venmo and some of these other services,” Talcove said.

News 6 first reported a spouse spoofing case in 2019 when John and Aileen Markham received robocalls that appeared to be from their respective numbers.

“We could have our cell phones side by side, and it could ring at any given time,” John Markham recalled. “It could say Aileen’s cell or John’s cell.”

Alex Quilici, founder of YouMail Inc., predicted the endgame in the Markham case would eventually come out.

“There had to be a scam reason for using these numbers,” Quilici told News 6.

YouMail Inc. offers apps to stop spam calls, according to the company’s website. There are 13 million users blocking robocalls with the YouMail system.

Quilici agrees with the defense of a family password, in fact his family has one.

For more information on robocall defense go to: https://www.youmail.com/ or https://risk.lexisnexis.com/.

If you have a consumer or investment issue just email makeendsmeet@wkmg.com or text the words “make ends meet” to 407-676-7428.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.