The Tech Guy ~ Jim Witous

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Don’t take the bait

Posted on June 13, 2024 by Jim Witous

Tom was 82 years old, enjoying his retirement and looking forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren. Through smart investments in the stock market (including Apple stock at $18/share in 1998) he had amassed a sizable portfolio of over $900,000. This nest egg would help him navigate his remaining years in comfort and security. Then, something happened that almost ruined his well laid plans, and it all started with an innocuous phone call.

“Hello Tom? This is Barry calling from Charles Schwab. The reason I’m calling you today is because we have noticed some unusual and possibly fraudulent activities in your portfolio account. To verify your identity, the last four digits of your social security number are 2298. Is that correct?” 

When Tom heard his correct social security number and the word fraudulent, he initially believed that “Barry from Schwab” was legitimate and was truly there to help him. He confirmed the number. So, like so many senior citizens, Tom took the bait and began to believe everything Barry was about to tell him. 

Barry then asked, “Tom, could you log in to your Schwab account and tell me what the total value of your portfolio shows right now?” 

After a few moments, Tom replied, “It looks like $911,000.” With this information, Barry was ready to begin the scam. 

“I have some unfortunate news for you Tom. We are showing the total amount at this time is $891,000. There was a $20,000 withdrawal about an hour ago. Did you make this withdrawal?” Barry inquired. 

“No I didn’t. What can we do?” Tom said, with fear in his voice. 

“Don’t worry Tom, we’ll take care of this, but we have to act quickly”, said Barry. “First of all, I’m going to initiate a conference call to Social Security and find out if your account has been compromised, so could you hold the line while I patch you in?” 

“Sure,” said Tom. 

There was a short delay and then Kathy announced herself. “Good morning, this is Kathy from the Social Security Administration, how may I help you?” 

“Hello Kathy, this is Barry from Charles Schwab and I’ve got Tom on the line with us. It appears that Tom’s social security account may be compromised, so could you run a quick check to see if there is any unusual activity on your end? The last four digits of his account number are 2298.”

“Sure can,” Kathy responded. “This is interesting, I’m seeing multiple credit card application requests from different addresses around the country. Please ask Tom if we have his permission to freeze his account so that no credit cards can be opened in his name.”

“Is that OK with you Tom?” Barry said. Tom replied, “Of course. Can we do this right now, Kathy? 

“Consider it done,” she said. “Is that all you need right now, Tom?” 

“That’s all for now, thank you so much!” Barry replied.

At this point, the bait had been dangled in front of Tom, and he just swallowed the hook. Tom was ready to follow Barry’s instructions and willing to act with urgency to protect his assets. The perfect sting was about to begin.

Barry acted swiftly and decisively with complete confidence and told Tom, “You’ll need to sell your stock immediately to protect the remaining assets. After selling your stock, you’ll need to transfer it into your checking account. After that, we’ll need you to wire transfer all of it into our secure Schwab portfolio account. Can you do that?”

Tom needed a moment to comprehend all that had transpired and asked, “I don’t know how to wire transfer money from my Wells Fargo account because I don’t do online banking. How can I transfer the money?”

“No problem, Tom, you’ll just need to go down to your Wells Fargo branch and have them initiate the wire transfer. Let your banker know that this needs to happen quickly so that you don’t lose any additional funds. And tell them we have it all taken care of from our end and not to worry,” Barry said. 

With that directive, Tom called an Uber and arrived at his local Wells Fargo branch and was all set to initiate a transaction that would wipe out his entire retirement fund.

Thankfully, the branch manager asked Tom to explain all that had transpired between him and Schwab, and after several minutes advised Tom not to proceed with the transfer of funds. He also suggested that Tom visit his local computer consultant (yours truly) and make sure that his computer was not compromised or hacked. And that is how Tom was saved from being scammed out of his nest egg. 

Last year in the United States, citizens over the age of 60 lost more than $3.4 billion through fraudulent transactions and schemes. Most of these could have been prevented by following this advice: 

DO NOT TALK, TEXT OR EMAIL ANYONE REGARDING MONEY OR TECHNOLOGY, EVER! AND, NEVER LET ANYONE TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE.

If you are not sure what to do when you are confronted with an urgent call, text or email, just disconnect from the conversation immediately and call a friend or family member and tell them what happened. Do not succumb to the fear and urgency that fraudsters will tease you with and you’ll be safe.

Stay tuned for our next episode titled “Cash in the Box”. If you or someone you know wants to share an interesting “scam” story, please forward it to [email protected]




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