ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The scam started with an email.
A 72-year-old St. Johns County woman received an email from “US Tech Support” two weeks ago telling her she needed to call and cancel her account with them or continue to have her bank account charged for their services, according to an offense report. Thinking the email was real, she called a phone number in the email.
The woman told investigators her computer was then taken over, $22,000 was put into her checking account and her credit card showed it was charged $17,000. She was then told by “Alex” from US Tech Support she needed to buy gift cards, so she bought $8,000 worth and gave the numbers to Alex.
Eventually, the woman then realized she was part of a scam and called the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Wells Fargo did not refund her money.
The Sheriff’s Office said scams like this are common around the holidays. A red flag, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan, is any mention of gift cards.
“The storylines are the same. The variables in it change, but in the end, they want gift cards. They want you to call them back with the numbers and in a matter of seconds the gift cards are wiped clean, the money is gone,” Mulligan said. “And they are usually from another country and very, very, very difficult if not impossible to locate, so the money is gone after that has occurred.”
Mulligan encourages anyone, especially seniors, to call law enforcement before they do anything with their bank accounts or money.
But gift card scams aren’t the only ones being used by thieves.
Another St. Johns County woman, 61, found out through an Experian email that a $15,400 line of credit that she did not apply for had been opened at Citibank. Before she knew it, $4,700 had been withdrawn from the account.
“Actually I was shocked – and I started crying,” the woman told News4Jax.
The woman said she didn’t know how someone got personal information to open the checking account with Citibank. Citibank is not holding her responsible, according to a police report.
“I don’t use WiFi. I use a WiFi spot. I don’t carry my social security card with me. I carry one of the special cases you carry your credit cards in so that they can’t be scanned and it still happened anyway,” she said. “Someone got my telephone number, my home phone, my physical address, they got my social security number and I have absolutely no idea how they came about it.”
There are also reports of scammers posing as the IRS and The Department of Homeland Security has told shoppers to be aware of potential holiday scams and malicious cyber-campaigns, particularly when browsing or shopping online.
“Cyber actors may send emails and ecards containing malicious links or attachments infected with malware or may send spoofed emails requesting support for fraudulent charities or causes,” according to the department.