Senior Cyber Safety
Cyber Fraud Tactics Effective in Targeting Seniors
Jo, a retired teacher likes to begin her day “with a smile.” She sat at her computer to send friends a Far Side cartoon. A warning popped up saying there was a problem and asking her to call the phone number in the pop-up. She did. In three days, criminals convinced Jo that her credit card had been used to purchase $15,000 on child porn, a timeworn ruse.
One of the crooks promised Jo he could remedy the problem, only if she spent a small fortune on gift cards. She complied by spending $45,000 and the crook kept upping the ante threatening that she would be arrested for child porn and for laundering money. All this was false.
According to Microsoft, tech support scams are ever-expanding worldwide and industry-wide challenge, with fraudsters continually looking for new and sophisticated ways to defraud consumers. The scams usually hinge on alleged computer glitches that scammers say they can remedy. In Jo’s case, the bogus problem was the misuse of her American Express card.
Jo called the phony Microsoft number and the woman answering gave a false name and an employee I.D. number. She asked, “What were you doing at 4:30 this morning?” Jo was transferred to an American Express “specialist,” Kevin Klein. (She later learned that neither firm had contacted her.)
Mr. Klein was calm and reassuring, claiming he would investigate the $15,000 charge, but she would have to provide that amount in gift cards. Most of what he said did not make sense, but she was frightened, as he warned her not to speak with anyone or it would hamper his efforts to prove her innocence.
On day one, Klein instructed Jo to use her American Express card to buy $8,000 in Apple gift cards, $5,000 at Macy’s and $2,000 at Target, giving him all redemption codes. He remained on the call to her cellphone as she drove from store to store. The next day, Klein had Jo withdraw $30,000 from her bank to purchase more gift cards. That day, she picked up $27,000 gift cards from three Apple stores. (Federal law requires merchants to report cash payments exceeding $10,000 or more to the IRS. Klein instructed her to spend no more than $9,000 at each store to avoid extra scrutiny.) On the third day, Klein had Jo spend $3,000 on Target cards with the remaining of the bank withdrawal. That totaled $45,000 in gift cards in three days.
Jo says some of their clerks questioned her about the purchases and a Macy’s supervisor refused to let a sale go through. So Klein had her try another department in the same Macy’s, which was authorized. She admits to resenting that some retailers gave her a hard time, and she told them that some cards were for a niece. Klein also sent Jo to two locations to purchase cryptocurrency, but thankfully, she was unable to get the machines to work.
After it was all over, Jo saw that it was a big, fat scam. Red flags came in focus: Klein asked where she was having lunch but did not know that McDonald’s was a restaurant. She asked Klein about his accent, and he claimed he did not have one. And when he told her to check her computer for her arrest warrant, she knew that something that important would not be emailed.
Joe contacted the local police, the FBI and American Express. As the credit card firm began their investigation, she was issued provisional credit. She had a computer expert who found malware that allowed the crooks remote access to the device.
Beside her losses, the crime left emotional scars. One, Klein told her someone from his office was coming to her home to verify the gift card number. She was so frightened that she had a friend stay with her. For days, she grew anxious about every car parked near her home.
Says Jo, “I can’t believe I did this. I’m a sharp cookie. It all looked so real.” Jo cannot say why it happened, but the former educator hopes others can learn from her experience, saying, “I just don’t want anybody else to get caught in it.”
To report cyber fraud, contact Richard Smith, LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigator at 318-992-2151.