Bob is an intelligent man, says his friend Laurie. At 94, his mind is still sharp. He set up his computer and TV by himself. He’s up on technology.
But as sharp as he might be, Bob got taken by a fast-talking scammer. To the tune of $7000. He decided to share his story to help prevent it from happening to someone else. He can’t recall each and every detail, but enough to show how the scammer took advantage of him.
We sat and talked in a lounge area at the over 55 community he calls home. Four friends joined us to give Bob moral support and add their own pieces to his story. The group decided that mostly for Bob’s protection, it would be better not to share anyone’s real identity or where they live.
How it happened
Sometime last month, Bob started having trouble with his computer. It had happened before, about two years ago, and it got fixed by someone he assumed was a reputable online support person. He paid $400 with his debit card and his computer worked fine. Until a few weeks ago.
He says he did not contact a tech support person this time. They called him. At this point in our conversation, Laurie and his other friends offered up some possible scenarios.
It appears that the story started a couple of years ago. Maybe they had his information and reached out and it started the whole thing. Maybe they were still remotely in his computer. Maybe they created the problem.
Whatever the real story, Bob was happy with his experience two years ago, so even though the “support person” called him and not the other way around, he didn’t think twice about having someone fixing his computer remotely again.
They asked to go into my computer. I let the man do it, which was my first mistake and he just kept going from there. They could do this and that and it would cost this much. All the time he was talking to me they were working on my computer.
Bob’s friend Kathy said she understands how easily a person could get roped in. It happened to her several years ago. She didn’t lose money, but it still cost her.
I was having trouble with my computer and I looked up online quickly to see how I could get in touch with Microsoft or another company, whatever popped up, and that’s how I made contact with them. Within minutes, they were on my computer, asking me to let them look at my computer in a remote way. As soon as that happened, I saw red things all over my computer. They were highlighting things and they were saying this is really bad, you’re going to need our help, it’s going to cost you X number of dollars. That was an immediate red flag for me. I said this is illegal, I’m reporting you. I shut my computer down and the next morning I called my banks, my credit card, all that. I did not have a problem that I know of after that. When you go on your computer and you’re looking for help, all kinds of things pop up and some of them look exactly like the real thing.
Bob’s friend Kathy
Not only did the online tech person/scammer tell Bob he had all sorts of things wrong with his computer, he claimed that he would also be able to get Bob a refund on a warranty he had purchased when his computer got fixed two years ago. Another clue that this scam actually began the first time his computer was fixed. He would get a refund because the warranty hadn’t run out yet. The catch? Bob had to send the guy some money in order to get his refund. On top of the money he had to send for the repairs. You won’t believe what the scammer was doing all the while he was talking, rather fast-talking.
At the time that he was talking to me, he had my bank account open. And my account balance was right there. I don’t know how he was doing it but he was changing the figures. He was saying here’s what your account is going to be after you send the money. He said send $7000 and you’ll get the warranty refund back plus the $7000. He was talking all the time and I was taking it in.
It might be easy for any one of us to become judgemental at this point. To think, how did you not realize that you were being scammed? Bob feels that way, too, and that’s why he decided to swallow his pride and share his experience. Because the story continues.
Bob sent the guy the money. In cash. If he had talked to any of his friends, they each say they would have stopped him. But he didn’t. They have since called the police in the town that he sent the money to and the local police. They helped him get a new bank account, change other accounts, passwords, etc. Get a new computer. And blast the scammer. Because before Bob changed his number and got a new phone, the scammer called him back claiming he was from the Apple Fraud Division.
I knew it was same person. They said we can get your money back. You’ve got to go to the drugstore to get a gift card for $200. Send it to us. We’re going to send the $200 back along with your $7000.
All of this information has been provided to the police, along with the name and address of the person who talked Bob into sending him the money. The address turned out to be a dropbox at an Albertson’s store in California.
Bob’s not alone
Bob is far from being alone. People who are older are frequently targeted by scam artists. The FBI lists these as the top reasons why:
- Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
- People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
- Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.
- When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
Tricks of the trade
Scammers use all kinds of tricks to get whatever personal information they can from someone they’ve targeted. Online, it’s likely to start with pop-ups, some kind of advertisement, or in an email. You might also get a phone call. It’s called phishing. I think it’s fair to say that Bob got phished.
Here’s an infographic about phishing from the Federal Trade Commission.
I highly recommended checking out the FTC website. It is chock full of information about scams and how to protect yourself. For instance, there are some scams happening right now connected to Medicare open enrollment. If you’re eligible for Medicare, be on your guard.
- Anyone who tries to sell you Medicare insurance while claiming to be an “official Medicare agent” is a scammer. There are no Medicare sales representatives.
- Ignore anyone who says you must join a prescription drug plan to keep your Medicare coverage. The Medicare prescription drug plan (also known as Part D) is voluntary and has nothing to do with the rest of your Medicare coverage.
- Never give information over the phone to someone who says they need it so you can keep your coverage. Hang up on anyone who asks for a quick payment, threatens you, or offers you free equipment or services in exchange for your information.
- If you need help with Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE or go to Medicare.gov.
Here’s a list of resources to help protect you against potential scammers.
- Federal Trade Commission Scam Alerts
- National Council on Aging
- Elder Justice/DHHS
- Top scams in Maine
- Maine Legal Services for the Elderly
I wish I could tell you that Bob’s case has been solved and that he got his money back. I can’t. It’s still under investigation. When I asked him how he was feeling, he said “Better. It’s getting better. I look back at it and I can’t believe I did it, but I did.”
I’m so sorry you got scammed, Bob. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s sad and it’s maddening, but it will certainly help someone else. You’re a good man.