POWAY, Calif. (KGTV) — A local family said scammers were able to steal their life savings through a fake Amazon purchase and bank wire transfers.
William and Ave Bortz have been married for more than 55 years. “I’m looking forward to the next 55,” Ave Bortz said.
They were hoping to live out their golden years on the money they saved over the years and the profit from a recent home sale. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
“I was not brought up to believe [that] people would lie with that level of bad faith,” William Bortz said.
It started in January of last year. They said they got an email that looked like it was from Amazon. It said they purchased around $1,500 worth of products being sent to a different address. The email requested a call to a 1 (866) phone number to fix the issue. “I took over the phone call,” William said.
The person on the other end of the phone convinced William to allow access to their computer. It’s something their daughter, also named Ave, explained did not seem unusual to her parents. “My husband had always fixed it from San Diego to LA. so he was used to seeing his computer remote accessed,” she said.
She detailed how the scam worked, saying that the crooks showed her parents a fake Amazon website that said he spent money on a product. To get the money back, her parents had to type in the amount that was spent in a certain part of the website.
Instead, the fake website showed that her parents had spent $200,000 at Amazon and the hacker said “for you to get this money back, we need to synchronize the refund server with Amazon.”
Ave said her parents were instructed to wire transfer that money to what the scammers called the Amazon Refund Recovery Center.
She said the fake Amazon worker was persistent, calling her parents multiple times a day.
In all, William wired money at two different Chase branches in North County. Not realizing it was a scam, he made four transactions in eight days to Hong Kong and China. He said he has never wired money to a foreign country before this incident.
He lost $690,500.
“I felt very violated. Very violated,” he said.
William feels Chase could have done more. “I thought the bank should have asked me more questions,” he said.
His family wished the Chase employees would have shown him his bank balance after the transactions. Instead, he said encouraged him to do something else.
“They asked me if I would consider being a client of their private banking because I had assets to invest,” William said.
The Bortz's are suing Chase, alleging financial elder abuse and unfair business practices. It cites the Welfare and Institutions code which says a party “knew or should have known” that conduct is harmful to the elder adult.
The lawsuit was dismissed, but it is in the appeals process.
Attorney Sil Vossler said there is statewide attention on this lawsuit. He is not involved in this case, but he practices elder abuse law.
“Some courts are interpreting the financial abuse statutes to say if the bank should have known about the scam, they can be held liable if they participate… and other courts are saying no, the bank needs to have actual knowledge,” Vossler said.
He said the ruling in this lawsuit could affect future similar cases.
The Bortz’s said hackers were able to access their retirement accounts too, but their investment company was able to reimburse their money.
“Chase's reaction to this? It's not our fault. You were a willing participant in the whole thing and we don't owe you a dime,” William said.
A Chase spokesperson said that while Mr. Bortz is entitled to make a dispute, “the federal court has already dismissed his claim twice.”
“Consumers should always be suspicious when someone they don't know asks them to urgently send money,” said Peter Kelley, Vice President of Media Relations for Chase.
Williams said she had talked to her parents in the past about scams, but this one was extremely sophisticated.
“The hackers are getting away with wire transfers because they know the banks will sit back and do nothing to stop them,” Williams said. “Banks are the guardians of the gate. They’re the custodians. They’re whom we entrust with our money.”
The family has filed reports with numerous agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.