He wants to warn others to avoid pitfalls that he fell victim to
By Craig Lazzeretti
Assistant managing editor
(Thursday, Aug. 18): A Rossmoor resident reported that he recently lost over $50,000 as a result of an online scam that started with a purported subscription renewal email from Best Buy’s Geek Squad tech support service. He asked
the News to share his story so that others may be on the lookout for this or similar scams.
An email with the subject line “Re: Order Complete” was sent to the resident from a Hotmail address and read in part: “Your subscription with GEEK SQUAD will Renew Today and $389.99 is about to be Debited from your account by Today.” The email included a Geek Squad logo with customer ID and invoice numbers and a renewal date, and a 1-888 “customer care” phone number to call within 24 hours for a refund if the recipient didn’t authorize the charge.
The resident called the number and requested the refund, at which point the trouble began. First, he was told that while trying to refund the subscription fee, Geek Squad had inadvertently deposited $30,000 into his account. The resident logged into his bank account and saw a $30,000 deposit in his checking account; only later did he learn that the money had actually been transferred from his own savings account, apparently at the hands of the scammer who gained access to his computer and financial information.
The person on the phone asked the resident to wire $29,600 back to its office in Hong Kong. Believing that the transaction was legitimate, the resident completed the requested wire transfer at a local bank, but when he called back, he was told the transfer had been rejected and to try again at a different branch. He tried twice more to wire $29,600 from different branches to different accounts. He said the wire transfers ultimately depleted most of his checking account.
In a follow-up phone call with the person who had directed him to make the wire transfers, the resident was told that another error had been made when trying to reimburse him $60 for his trouble and wire transfer fees and that $6,000 had been deposited into his account. This time, he was asked to purchase gift cards in the amount of $500 each to American Express and Target and to photograph and text the gift card numbers to a phone number, which he did.
When the resident later discovered what had happened, he reported the fraud to the police and District Attorney’s Office but said he was told the chances of recovering the funds was “slim to none.” He later discovered that malware also had been installed on his computer, which he had removed at an Apple store.
When money is wired from a bank account as part of a scam, “little can be done,” Walnut Creek police Lt. Holley Connors said, because the money usually is transferred outside the country. She also said that no legitimate business should ever ask a customer to pay an amount owed through gift cards.
The Rossmoor resident is not the first person to lose a sizable sum of money to this particular cybercrime. Youngstown, Ohio, news station 21-WFMJ reported in March that a 75-year-old Mercer County woman reported losing nearly $100,000 in the same Geek Squad email scam.
Connors said that, unfortunately, she’s not surprised to learn of a resident losing this much money in such a scam. Fraud schemes of various sorts have been an ongoing problem throughout her 15 years with the police department.
“I can’t even begin to think of all the types of ways people have thought of to target individuals,” she said, noting that the Internet has provided new opportunities for scamsters. “I feel like it’s gotten worse as technology has gotten better.”
The Rossmoor resident advised that others should consult with their adult children, or other tech-savvy adults, before acting on unsolicited emails or phone calls of this sort.
“My kids are very computer literate. They would have figured this out in a moment,” he said. “I didn’t consult with them until it was too late.”
Internet fraud, including “phishing” emails that appear to come from legitimate sources, is among the top 10 scams targeting seniors, according to the National Council on Aging.
Although there’s a perception that these types of scams primarily victimize elderly residents who may not be tech savvy, Connors said they affect all age groups. She gave an example of a mortgage company professional who was tricked into wiring a down payment to a cybercriminal.
“This happens to everyone,” she said. “Very intelligent people can fall victim to this.”
Another widespread Internet scam that has been draining bank accounts involves the popular quick-payment app Zelle. A federal class-action lawsuit was filed earlier this year against Bank of America alleging that the financial giant failed to warn customers of the risks of fraud using Zelle or protect account holders who were victimized.
The lawsuit claims that nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded in 2020 alone through scams involving Zelle and other person-to-person payment apps, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant.
Best Buy has created a page on its website with information and tips on identifying various scams, including the one that victimized this Rossmoor resident. Link: https://bit.ly/3ArBXmf
Those who suspect a scam related to Best Buy or Geek Squad can report it by calling 1-888-237-8289. It also offers the following tips for identifying phishing scams.
- Beware of emails that have you “verify” personal information online. Most legitimate companies, including Best Buy, will never request personal information in this manner.
- Contact organizations only through trusted channels.
- Scammers may attempt to create a feeling of panic — don’t rush to respond to or follow the instructions of suspicious emails, text messages or phone calls.
- Don’t click on links or cut and paste links from questionable emails, text messages or websites.
- Read the terms and conditions of offers — scams often require that consumers take inappropriate or unreasonable actions.
- URL-checker software and other security applications can help protect against malicious links.
- Report phishing emails through your email client’s reporting option (like Spam, Junk or Report Phishing) to help avoid seeing further messages from the sender.
Connors of Walnut Creek police advises residents who receive phone calls or emails regarding personal and/or financial matters to confirm their legitimacy, “not by calling the number they give you but by finding it on the Internet or on the back of a debit card.”
She also said residents who are uncertain about the legitimacy of such communication, or fearful they may be the target of a scam, can contact police for help. Resources, including an online form to submit a police report, can be found on the department’s website. Link: www.walnutcreekpd.com
Or call the non-emergency line at 1-925-943-5844 to speak with someone directly.
“It’s OK to say, ‘I’m going to call police,’ ” Connors said. “We’re happy to help. We’re here 24 hours a day.”