“Yank” was a constant presence on Barbara’s cellphone in late March, staying on the line as he instructed her to withdraw money from various credit union branches and deposit the money in bitcoin machines.
He claimed to be from the fraud department of Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, of which Barbara is a member, and said she had to move her money around to keep it from being stolen by scammers.
It turns out “Yank” was the one who was the scammer, and by the time Barbara figured it out, she and her husband had lost $90,000 – a huge chunk of their life savings.
“I’m angry more than anything,” says Barbara, a retired violinist who once performed with the Utah Symphony Orchestra. “I’m also a senior and, at this point, I would have considered myself relatively savvy.”
For example, the longtime Albuquerque resident says that for years she checked her online bank accounts twice a day for fraud.
The nightmare began on March 30 with a text message saying that $900 had been charged to her Amazon account and that she should call the number listed if the charge was not hers.
She called and was told to hold out for the credit union’s fraud department because of “ongoing efforts to wire $20,000 from the credit union accounts to someone in Thailand.”
“It scared me a bit,” Barbara says, adding that she thought she was vulnerable to a story of losing money because her debit card had been hacked some time ago. (She did not lose any money in this incident.)
With Yank on the phone, Barbara went to credit union branches around Albuquerque and withdrew sums of money within three days. Every time she pulled out $10,000 or more, the cashier would ask her a list of questions. And Barbara would follow the scammer’s instructions saying the money was needed to pay the workers on a renovation job.
He was told to open two Bitcoin accounts and, under Yank’s direction, begin depositing the money, bill by bill, into Bitcoin machines at several locations.
It all fell apart when Barbara told her piano tuner, who told a lawyer friend, who said Barbara needed to call the credit union immediately.
Melissa Stock, a spokeswoman for the credit union, said she could not discuss individual customers or policies for handling suspicious withdrawals. However, she said the credit union “constantly tries to educate our members” about financial fraud and has posted security articles on its website.
Barbara will probably never get her money back, but she’s grateful she didn’t lose more and wanted me to tell her story as a warning to others.
Amy Nofziger, AARP’s Director of Fraud Victim Assistance, says fake Amazon text messages, emails or calls are among the top impostor scams today. If you have any questions or concerns about your account, check it online on Amazon’s legitimate website.
She says the reason Barbara’s scammer wanted to stay on the line with her was that he didn’t want her to alert anyone. He wanted to keep her in a state of fear without having time to think, says Nofziger.
A few other things to consider:
• Would someone from a credit union – or any service industry – spend that much time with you on the phone? Probably not, in a time when you sometimes have to wait hours just to get to a human.
• Would a real financial institution tell you to lie about withdrawing money? Or something else ? “If someone asks you to lie, that’s a huge red flag,” says Nofziger.
Contact Ellen Marks at [email protected] or 505-823-3842 if you know what looks like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Division of Consumer Protection toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints may be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspX