CARLSBAD (KGTV) — A senior living in the North County said she lost her life savings due to an elaborate internet scam where she may have unknowingly given the thief access to her bank accounts.
Experts said the crooks are getting more creative, not only targeting the elderly, but ultimately anyone who uses popular sites like Amazon.
Vicki Tripp said her life changed because of an email she thought came from Amazon.
“There was a charge on Amazon for an iPhone and I knew it wasn't my charge,” Tripp said. “There was a phone number to call for Amazon.”
She called the number and said the man on the other end told her there was an error and the money would be put back in her account. Tripp said he sounded “very professional.”
In reality, there was no real Amazon email and no iPhone purchase. What Tripp did not realize at the time was she gave scammers access to her computer through remote control software called “AnyDesk.”
Cybersecurity experts said these types of scams have been going on for years, but the pandemic has increased its popularity.
“Quite honestly with COVID, people have gotten even more comfortable with people having ‘remote access’ to their computers,” said Chris Pierson, CEO of cybersecurity company BlackCloak.
Pierson said the scammers all follow the same script, where they convince the victim that they need remote access to the computer in order to help. “Once you click and you download the tool on your computer, the computer is now owned by the cybercriminals,” he said.
Tripp said she’s still not exactly clear how the scammers deposited thousands in her account—far more than what she owed for the phone which in reality, did not exist.
“What happened was the transfer that was supposed to be for $2,500.... it came out to be $25,000,” Tripp said.
She said to return that extra money, the fake Amazon employee said she had to do a wire transfer and go to the bank. “After a few days, he said that it hadn’t been received so we have to do another wire transfer,” Tripp said.
Three wire transfers later, Tripp said she lost more than $84,000.
She felt panicked when she realized what happened. “I’m supporting a brain injured son, so it’s not just me that I have to be concerned about,” Tripp said.
Looking back, she told Team 10 she sees the red flags, but at the time, Tripp said the operation was just so smooth. “There was no reason for me to ever question it along the way,” she said.
Tripp also wished the bank could have raised a red flag on an unsuspecting senior transferring money to an international account.
“If that employee would have mentioned there's a scam going around now with wire transfers, I would have immediately gone back called Amazon directly, and it never would have happened,” Tripp said.
Pierson said banks do have guidelines to spot identity theft, but he encourages people to be armed with knowledge to protect themselves.
“If there was truly something that was fraudulent, you can go back and log in yourself to Amazon's website, or whatever website it might be… call your bank yourself via the number that you know not the number that they tell you,” Pierson said. He also encourages victims to file a report with the FBI.
Tripp filed reports with the police department, the bank, and the FTC. She said her once positive outlook on life is now gone. “Now, [it’s] a lot of sadness,” she said.
Tripp’s friends have established a GoFundMe account to help her try to recoup some of the money that was taken from her. It can be found online here.