Scammers worked overtime during the pandemic convincing people to hand over their personal information. Over 31,000 New Jersey residents were reportedly victims of identity theft, including 81-year-old Carole Robinson, who lost $420,000.
According to NJ.com, Robinson and others filed fraud reports to the Federal Trade Commission after their identity was stolen. In October 2021, Robinson received a suspicious email about an annual subscription fee to her Wells Fargo bank account. The charge was for $499.99, which prompted her to request a refund via the number provided. She said she spoke with a male individual who told her ‘he could take care of it.’ ”
“He asked if he could access my computer to remove the file,” she told the outlet. “I said yes, as I have over the years done this with, no problem.”
Unbeknownst to her, the scammer accessed her entire bank portfolio, including her checking account and IRA funds.
“He asked me to type my name in, and when it came to the refund amount, which was rounded out to $500, it magically became $50,000,” Robinson continued. “I was told no problem; we would make a wire transfer to correct the error.”
The man advised her not to inform Wells Fargo about the error for fear the bank might consider it money laundering and keep the funds. She said she was told to inform anyone who asked that the $50,000 was to purchase antique furniture.
The scammer went even further using Robinson’s name to open a cryptocurrency exchange account with Binance that’s registered in the Cayman Islands. She visited her local branch over the next couple of days to initiate three large five-figure transactions from her IRA. It began with $49,500, then $39,500, and then $221,000. She informed the bank tellers the money was for furniture as instructed, and ordered the transfer to the Binance account.
“I was now in a VIP status and needed almost a half a million (deposited) in order to withdraw. Yes, crazy,” said Robinson. “But, they knew of my daughter and nieces, which scared me since they are beneficiaries on the IRA. I almost felt like they were being held for ransom and I was the rescue.”
Next, the scammer opened a home equity line of credit in her name with Bank of America and “took out $99,500 in three transactions against her mortgage-free home.”
When Robinson tried to call the number again, it was disconnected. In an effort to get her money back, she has filed several complaints with local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and local lawmakers, and spoken with dozens of people. However, none have been helpful.
Robinson lost a total of $320,000 between her Wells Fargo checking account and IRA. She continued to notify the proper authorities, who hesitantly sought justice for her. Later, she received notices from Bank of America with threats to foreclose on her home, likely due to the fraudulent loan.
“I feel embarrassed, victimized, but not a victim,” she added.
Robinson has been fighting this case for nearly a year, but her fight is far from over. “I am the widow of an airline pilot, so until we have landed and I have my luggage, the trip isn’t over,” Robinson said. “The thieves were really good. It is 10 months, and still fighting.”
Both banks have yet to offer to return any of Robinson’s money, but they are investigating the matter. Bank of America allegedly thought Robinson was deceased at the time, which was a result of “miscommunication.”
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo called the matter a “difficult and heartbreaking situation” and warns others to raise awareness about scammers.
“If someone asks you to wire money and directs you to lie to your bank about why you are sending the money, it is a red flag that you are being scammed,” the bank advised. “Don’t be afraid to end communication with the person who contacted you and take time to research what you can do.”
For mobile users, Bank of America warns consumers to create strong passwords, activate push alerts and enable fingerprint or facial recognition.
The year 2021 saw a record high number of consumers filing fraud reports, according to a recent FTC report. The agency received reports from over 2.8 million people last year, that reportedly lost more than $5.8 billion — which is an increase of more than the 70 percent increase from 2020. These include online shopping scams, bank fraud and more, including nearly 1.4 million reports for identity theft; about 25% of scams left many suffering from financial losses.
There are various ways to work to avoid becoming a victim of scammers. These include verifying your transactions and never sharing your personal or banking information with anyone, reports USA.gov. That includes your account number, checks or credit/debit card numbers.
A warning on the site says, “Be wary of callers claiming that you’ve won a prize or vacation package.” The site also advises individuals to not click on any link that requires verification of funds or to send money to a caller who insists you pay with a prepaid card or money transfer service.
If you’ve been a victim of a scam or know someone who has, report it to the Federal Trade Commission immediately.