Joanne thought she was careful about the internet and technology, but by the end of the day July 6, the 93-year-old was exhausted and had been defrauded of $15,000.
Like too many seniors, the mother of two and grandmother of two fell victim to fraudsters.
Joanne sat down at her computer that morning to do some online banking.
“I was trying to get into the computer, and it was coming up with some odd things,” she said.
What appeared to be virus protection was sending warnings.
“All the signs looked legit,” she explained.
Then the phone rang, claiming to be Coast Capital Savings fraud division and that two new accounts had been opened in her name.
One account contained $1,764 and the other had $2,679.
The cellphone showed the call coming from Coast Capital, but Joanne has since learned that scammers can manipulate call display.
The caller said they needed Joanne’s help to catch the fraudsters “and they had to be very secretive,” she said. For every question she had, they seemed to have a sensible answer.
The Cloverdale resident was counselled not to tell anyone what she was doing because they didn’t know if the fraud was being committed by someone in the credit union.
To help catch the ‘fraudsters’ Joanne was asked to transfer around money.
“I was instructed to transfer $20,000 from my savings to checking,” she explained.
Then she was to withdraw the cash.
“I was to have them on the phone the whole time,” she said.
Joanne went to her credit union branch where the staff questioned her withdrawal.
“I was told to say [the large withdrawal] was for personal use,” she explained.
There were two scammers through the day – Syd and Sophia – who kept her occupied and what she later realized was in an emotional whirlwind that didn’t allow her to think straight.
“You don’t have a minute to double check,” she commented.
The scammers coached her on how to take photos with her cellphone and had her send pictures of her driver’s licence.
Joanne thought the threat to her was because of the large amount of cash she had on her, not the person on the other end of the phone.
Back in her car with the withdrawal, she was told to go to a Cloverdale Circle K and put the money in a bitcoin machine. The store clerk tried to warn her.
“The gentleman at the store said ‘mam, you are being scammed’,” she said.
Joanne’s unfamiliarity with bitcoin may have saved some of her money. Throughout it all the scammers said her money was safe and she would get it back, even when she questioned putting thousands into a bitcoin machine.
“Anytime I questioned, [the reply was] ‘don’t worry. You will be able to access your money’,” she said.
The scammers had told Joanne to destroy bitcoin and other receipts. She crumpled them but then decided to keep them, since they were the only proof she had that she had deposited the money as instructed.
She was only able to put in $10,000 then had trouble with the machine. The scammers told her to go to the Circle K in Willoughby to submit the rest. She put in $5,000 before having trouble with that machine. She was going to put in the remaining $5,000 in the morning.
What started out at about 9:30 a.m. had dragged on until almost dinnertime.
“They just wore me out. I hadn’t eaten,” she said.
Joanne said she was stopping to call her daughter, a daily evening practice. The scammers told her not to but she said if she didn’t, her daughter would be suspicious.
Joanne called her daughter, Jennifer, who was out to dinner with a friend.
“I asked where she was and she said she couldn’t talk about it but not to worry, she would explain later,” Jennifer said.
Joanne’s reply immediately set off alarm bells for Jennifer.
Her daughter went to her mom’s apartment but Joanne wasn’t home yet.
“I thought maybe she was with the police,” Jennifer said.
That’s because of what she saw on her mother’s dining room table – papers about banking and fraud. Jennifer also looked on her mom’s computer.
“The first thing that popped up was ‘bitcoin’,” she said. “And I knew something was really wrong.”
She phoned the police looking for her mom who arrived home about that time and still maintained that she could not tell her daughter what was going on. So Jennifer put the police on speaker and they confirmed that Joanne had been scammed.
“Nope, nope, nope. She was adamant,” Jennifer said about her mom.
The police advised her to turn off the computer and freeze all financial accounts. By now it was about 7:45 p.m. and the financial institutions were closed. Her one bit of luck that day was managing to catch someone at the telephone banking office just about to leave for the day. But that person stayed and froze her accounts.
Joanne was finally able to admit to herself that she had been defrauded.
The police said they could do nothing about it.
“That broke my heart,” she said.
She went to her credit union the next day, and while it is doing an investigation, said it would not provide her with the results. She was told that if someone calls claiming to be from a financial instituion, to hang up and call it directly and ask if anyone was trying to get in touch.
Joanne took her computer in and was told it had two viruses, that seems to be the scammers way to get at her.
She still has texts on her phone from the scammers about the great job she was doing.
Joanne is typical of many seniors – she’s lived a full life and is not a stupid person.
“I worked in an office, and I ran a business,” she explained.
But she was blindsided by people who hone their scamming skills because it pays off when they can get easy money from seniors. It took years for her to save that much money.
She worked hard all her life with the goal of having security in her senior years.
“I worked hard for my money, and that’s why it hurts all the more,” she said.
Being scammed, she admitted, has shaken her to her core. It’s why she’s asked that her real name not be used. She’s suffered from depression and several bouts of crying since the incident.
In hindsight, what would have pulled her back to reality and prevented the fraud?
Joanne said probably nothing.
“I just felt like I was in a stupor,” she said.
She’s hoping sharing her tale will set off some alarms for others when they are targeted by scammers.
“They’re so convincing,” she said.
Joanne suggests staying off the computer and have it examined by experts for viruses. She also advises people to question everything.
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