A 77-year-old Atlanta woman who thought that she was protecting her life savings, nearly gave it all away by wiring 70,000 dollars to Thailand. She was in the process of wiring 100,000 dollars more until a family member caught on to the kind of scheme that costs senior citizens 3 billion dollars a year.
The anonymous victim spoke with CBS46's Better Call Harry about her experience, in the hopes it helps others.
The scam itself has been around for years, but now, with the ability to spoof you banking institution's caller ID, the criminals have increased their odds of gaining the victim's confidence.
It begins with an online alert, an alarm and a phony message from Microsoft that your computer has been hacked. The message warns victims not to shut down their computer before calling the onscreen number immediately.
Computer IT experts say the appropriate step would be to shut off your computer and disconnect the modem. In this case, the victim called the toll free number.
A phony Microsoft representative told the victim he could resolve the issue if she would give him remote access by pressing the Alt key and the number 4. It was the costliest mistake of her life.
The hackers began searching the victims computer for information and learned that she banked at Wells Fargo. Elbert, the phony Microsoft representative, transferred the victim to what she thought was Wells Fargo's fraud department. A man named David convinced her that her bank accounts had been compromised and that she needed to transfer the funds.
"So then David called me back and said just a few minutes later that the Feds had instructed him to tell me that we needed to set up an alias account…and to transfer my money from the bank into that alias account."
"Did you ever think to just get off the phone and call Wells Fargo?" Better Call Harry asked during a Zoom interview.
"No, because I thought David was Wells Fargo Actually, when he called, Wells Fargo came up as the caller ID.
Over the next several days, the scammers convinced the victim to go a Wells Fargo branch where she wouldn't be recognized as a regular customer.
They asked to be kept on speaker phone. If anyone at the bank asked questions, she was instructed to lie and claim the money was for an investment.
The scammers claimed it was necessary to lie because they'd had complaints about bank employees and couldn't be trusted.
The victim wired 45,000 dollars. Two days later she went to another Wells Fargo branch and wired and additional 25,000 dollar. A family member stopped the transfer before an additional $100,000 went directly to Thailand.
The victim claims Wells Fargo employees asked few questions and never stepped in to intervene. In a response to CBS46 News, a Wells Fargo spokesman issued the following statement.
We are saddened to hear that a fraudster was able to scam a customer out of her hard-earned savings. We have brochures and websites to help our customers identify and avoid common scams. Our employees can help explain the possible risk factors of wire transfers that may expose our customers to financial abuse when our customers provide all information about why they want to send a wire transfer. We understand the frustration and anger of fraud victims, and we strive to continually improve our practices to better assist and support them.