Hillcrest man falls victim to 'unnerving' high-tech scam

Posted at 7:03 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 22:06:31-04

HILLCREST, Calif. (KGTV) - A successful entrepreneur says he was so drawn into a high-tech scam he decided to cut a big check.

Last Thursday morning, Richard Sells says the voice on the phone broke some bad news.

"Looks like you have an intrusion on your computer. You're being hacked by the Chinese," said Sells. 

Sells was skeptical, but the man told him the target was his Vanguard brokerage account.

"When he knew about that and was talking about the money being transferred out of it, I got very concerned," said Sells.

Sells gave the man remote access to his computer after the man asked for it.

He tells us a half hour into the call, there on the screen was a document he had never seen before. It had a lot of personal information and at the bottom were the social security numbers for him and his wife, presented as proof as what the hacker accessed.

Then came the topper: a screen shot of his Vanguard account, including the account number and total amount.

"He told me the Chinese are transferring $90,000 out of the account," said Sells.

According to Sells, the man offered to install security measures to protect his accounts. He accepted, and the man charged him nearly $5,000 dollars.

Later, Sells' family convinced him to cancel the check. He says the address he sent it belonged to a New York towing company.

It's not clear how the scammer knew about his Vanguard account, but computer security expert Martin Ferrari of Ferrari Enterprises says it was a likely a previous phishing email that allowed them to monitor his keystrokes

Sells says Vanguard confirmed there was no hack, and Ferrari determined the scammer installed encryption software that only they could access.

10News did call the number and talked to a man who denied much of what Sells told us, claiming he works for a legitimate security business.