SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California mother and daughter are out of money after a man they believed to be the actor Will Smith convinced them to send him everything.
They’re not alone, in the most recent (2021) fraud reports by state from the FBI, California reported the highest number of cases.
The 62-year-old mom thought she was being smart, and asked for photo verification of Will Smith and his wife Jada, which ended up being stock photos from Google.
Like many scammers though, this one preyed on her weakness. Her adult daughter has a brain tumor and has had a hard time finding work. They thought Will Smith was just the type of person who could help.
It started with a DM to Valerie Briggs on TikTok from a username "WillSmith2246347."
"He offered me a job, like $950 a week to help him out," Valerie said.
The user offered Valerie a leading role in a movie with him and a house of her own. But first, he needed Valerie to send him gift cards.
“He asked for my Capital One checking account,” Valerie added.
The user maxed out her card and her mom Susan's card.
“I told him I was going to cut up all my cards," Susan said. "He said 'No, no, no, no, don't do it. Please, don't do that."
The two, both disabled and on fixed income, wanted to believe this was their shot out of poverty.
“I wanted to get out of here so badly and finally have a house that I call my own,” Susan said on why she wanted to believe it.
In the hundreds of messages they exchanged, Susan asked the user why a millionaire would need help from low-income people like them to send sick people gift cards on his behalf.
“We asked him nicely," Susan answered. "He said, 'Well, we don't want scandal, my wife and I don't want scandal because of what happened at the Oscars.'”
They’ve filed a police report and requested their money back on Cashapp. But they don’t have much hope of getting the $900 back.
“We're starving," Susan said. "We've been eating candy for the last two days.”
It’s a story Assemblymember Christopher Ward (D- San Diego) has heard versions of before. It's why he spent time Tuesday afternoon informing and warning constituents of the scams going around.
“In Sacramento on a regular basis, we are working on legislation to make sure that any loopholes in the laws or other things that law enforcement needs to successfully prosecute and hold those accountable are afforded." Ward said. "But one of the most important things that I can do are exactly what we did today, and that's outreach to my constituents and let them know of resources and information that they may not be familiar with.”
Ward said lawmakers are constantly keeping up with fraud trends and talking about ways to update the law as needed.
For now, he said to reach out to the district attorney who has a unit designated to helping fraud victims.