Scammers nearly collect $30,000 from Warwick resident’s bank account. Here’s how:

Be alert: It is not just emails with bad grammar anymore. There are much more elaborate and convincing online schemes to steal your money.

| 04 Mar 2024 | 01:29

M, a retired nurse and a longtime Warwick resident, was playing solitaire on her iPad after lunch on Friday, Feb. 16, when a security warning suddenly took over her screen. The pop-up claimed that her access on the device was blocked for security reasons relating to data that had been compromised by Trojan-type spyware. It said the message was from her device’s “security team” and suggested she call a secure phone number to get technical assistance.

M (an abbreviation of her name to protect her identity) called the number on the screen. She was then told that the line was compromised. The person on the line asked her to hold and insisted that she not hang up, while he called her back.

‘We’re going to take care of this’

When he did, it came from a blocked, unknown number, leading M to believe it was a security team reaching out to her.

The person on the line told her she had been hacked by foreign operatives who had downloaded child pornography on her device. M said she felt “sick to her stomach.”

She was also told that the hackers had access to her bank account.

“He somehow knew that I had $30,000 in my account,” M recalled. “I didn’t even think to question how technical support for my device knew my balance, I was just so shaken.”

M said the person on the phone was convincing. He did not act “like a hacker,” he was sophisticated and behaved more like a customer service representative.

“Be calm, be calm,” he told her. “We’re going to take care of this.”

He kept reiterating that she needed to remain on the line while he and his team handled the situation.

Once M knew her money was at risk, though, she didn’t feel comfortable sitting by.

“I told him ‘I’m just going to go to the bank and take my money out,’” thinking that would be the best way to protect it.

“No, no, no, don’t do that,” he said. “We will walk you through how to do this.”

M added that he was very persuasive that there was a “specific way to handle this.”

A gas station in Ringwood, N.J.

Although she was not yet suspicious because she believed she was on the phone with technical support, M found herself shaking with fear.

However, she could no longer wait so M drove to the bank to withdraw her money before the supposed hackers could access it. M said she was physically trembling when she arrived at the bank.

The man who turned out to be a scam artist was still on the line. He instructed her to tell the bank teller that the money was for college.

Leaving her phone in the car with the scammer waiting on the line, she walked into the bank.

When M told the teller that she needed to withdraw $30,000 of her savings, the teller asked why she needed the money.

“College,” M said.

‘They won’t take a check?” the teller asked.

M simply replied that it was “complicated.”

The bank teller asked no further questions, completed the request, and M walked out of her bank with two envelopes full of $20,000 in cash and a cashier’s check for $10,000.

When she got back in her car, she told the man on the phone that she had the money and asked him what to do next.

He gave her an address. “It’s very close to you, it’s 1009 County Road in Ringwood, New Jersey.”

M asked if it was the location of another financial institution. “I couldn’t understand why I would I need to go somewhere else or why he would request I give my money away,” M said.

She decided to go to her daughter’s house a few minutes away.

M was now driving with him on speakerphone. He claimed this was the only way to secure her money. He also clarified that the location in Ringwood was actually a gas station where she would meet a man by the name of Patrick Ford.

“In that instant,” M said, “it was like I was plunged into cold water. I finally woke up and realized I was being scammed.”

The daughter steps in

Having already arrived at her daughter’s house and with the scammer still on the phone but muted, M described what had happened.

All the while, the scammer kept asking: “Ma’am are you still there? We’re running out of time.”

M’s daughter searched for the customer service number for Apple, which did not match the number from the notification on M’s iPad. The daughter explained that the customer service department would not have knowledge of M’s bank account balances, nor would any legitimate institution request that she withdraw her savings and hand them over to someone in a parking lot.

The daughter then turned off the mute button and said: “We are no longer going to take part in this disgusting scam. You should be ashamed of yourself,” before cursing him off the phone.

The scam artist replied: “Yes, okay, ma’am.”

‘Be alert’

From moment the alert first appeared on M’s screen to her daughter’s final choice words for the scammer, M’s ordeal had lasted 90 minutes.

“I just broke down in tears,” M said. “I felt so stupid and violated and I couldn’t believe I didn’t realize sooner but they really were so convincing.”

A few days later, M contacted the legitimate customer service department for Apple and relayed what had happened. The customer service representative told her that her device was secure since she was not asked to download anything. The rep also the department had the fraudulent phone number “on their radar.”

Though scary and embarrassing, M decided that it was important to share her story with this newspaper in an effort to heighten awareness.

“Be alert,” M said. “If you think you think this could never happen to you, think again.”

A scam for nearly every occasion: From romance and employment to charities and a grandchild who needs your help, fraudulent schemes abound
• Romance scams
Romance scams are usually initiated online and often prey on vulnerable people. Scammers create fake online profiles and attempt to build phony emotional attachments until a potential victim is comfortable sending them money.
Victims can be both men and women. Many times, the criminal targets older people and those who may be struggling in a relationship and/or are emotionally vulnerable. Though most criminals aim for vulnerable targets, affluent and well-educated individuals have also fallen victim to these type of scams.
Criminals do extensive research on potential victims, looking through social media and dating sites for posts divulging information about their lives and personalities. They are expert manipulators and use personal posts against the victim, cultivating them over a long period of time. Victims feel there is a real connection, romantic interest, and become invested in the online relationship.
• IRS imposter scams
You get a call and the caller ID might show as the IRS calling. The caller might give a badge number and know the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. You are told you owe money and need to pay now to avoid arrest. You are told to wire the amount or put it on a prepaid debit card. It’s a scam. The IRS does not contact you for the first time by telephone or by email.
Don’t give the caller any financial or personal information. If you think you may have heard from a scammer call the FTC 877-FTC-HELP.
• Law enforcement impersonation scam
Scammers email and text pictures of real and doctored law enforcement credentials and badges to prove they are legitimate. Scammers change the picture or use a different name, agency or badge number but the basic scam is the same.
Social Security will never threaten, scare, or pressure you to take an immediate action.
• Social Security imposter scams
Scammers claim there is a problem with your Social Security account or promise to increase your benefits. Hang up and call the Federal Trade Commission 877-FTC-HELP
• Charity scams
Scammers pretend to be from a real or fake charity and try to get you to contribute. Do some research online. When you consider giving to a specific charity search its name plus “complaint, “review” and “scam.” If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
• Grandparent scams
Scammers pretend to be a grandchild or other relative who needs emergency financial help. Grandparents often have a hard time saying no, which is something scam artists know all too well.
Scammers who gain access to consumers’ personal information – by mining social media or purchasing data from cyber thieves – can create storylines to prey on the fears of grandparents. The scammers call and impersonate a grandchild – or another close relative – in a crisis situation, asking for immediate financial assistance.
Job offer scams
Virtual job scams are nothing new, but they’ve taken a personal – and persuasive – turn. College students say they’ve been approached on social media by people claiming to be recruiters for Wall Street firms, tech companies, national retailers, and other attractive places to land a job. The pitch is convincing. The “recruiter” may claim to have a connection at the college and say that the dean or a professor has recommended the student as a top-flight prospect for the company’s prestigious management program. In some cases, the recruiter may pepper the conversation with faculty names, campus landmarks, or even memories of their days back at good ol’ (insert-school here).
What’s really going on? It turns out the “recruiter” is an identity thief who has used publicly available facts – the dean’s name, well-known professors, school traditions, etc. – to steal personal information or to attempt a fake check scam.
• Tech support scams
Scammers tell you your computer’s security is at risk and try to remotely access your device and steal personal information or ask for payment. They want you to believe you have a serious problem with your computer, like a virus, and to pay for tech support services you don’t need.
Tech support scammers call and pretend to be a computer technician from a well-known company. They say they’ve found a problem with your computer. They typically ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then pretend to run a diagnostic test. Then they try to make you pay to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.
• Pop-up warnings
Tech support scammers try to trick you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen. It might look like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software, and it might use logos from trusted companies or websites. The message in the window warns you about a security issue on your computer and tells you to call a phone number to get help. If you get this kind of pop-up window on your computer, don’t call the number. Real security warnings and messages will never ask you to call a phone number.
The scammers are hoping you’ll call the phone number to get help.