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Woman out $51,000 as scammers target online shoppers

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By Susan El Khoury, Investigative Reporter

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — The pandemic has turned more people into online shopping and scammers are taking advantage of this to to steal money from unsuspecting people.

An 84-year-old Jefferson County woman learned that the hard way when she lost $51,000.

“They know exactly what to say, they know how to scare you,” Patricia said. She asked us to only use her first name to hide her identity. “I feel totally stupid and embarrassed to tell the story, really embarrassed, but I thought I want to help other people.”

She says the scam started when she got her computer fixed and days later received a message that appeared to be from the same company.

“I had this little message that it was Geek Squad and I had $423 coming back,” Patricia said. “We had to get into my account which I should have known.”

She says the man on the phone convinced her he needed her bank information to make a deposit. Patricia says he then claimed that she made a mistake and scared her into buying him gift cards and sending him multiple wire transfers, totaling $51,000.

“It just devastated me. I worked until I was 76 years old,” Patricia said. “I feel like I was totally stupid and how could I do something like that, but they were so convincing.”

Rebecca Phoenix is an investigator with the Better Business Bureau. She says the COVID-19 pandemic changed how scammers are working and who they’re targeting.

“It’s really for the first time that we saw adults in the age group of around 18 to 24 being scammed in this way almost as much as senior adults,” Phoenix said. “They are experts at psychological warfare when it comes to getting into your pocketbook.”

Phoenix says her office is getting more reports involving online shopping, especially on social media.

“Scammers will pay for ads or associate ads,” Phoenix said.

When people click on the link to buy those items, Phoenix says they’re charged but never receive the item they paid for, or the site was a ploy to get someone’s credit information.

“The thing to look for in these cases is a new website, check out the age of the website, how long has it been there? What are their return policies?” Phoenix added. “If you suspect you’re the victim of a scam you should also suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft.”

Patricia has since filed a police report. She says she’s going a step farther and keeping her computer off and not answering any phone calls she doesn’t recognize.

“If you don’t recognize that phone number, just hang up,” she added.

You can report a scam to the following places:

Better Business Bureau, Missouri Attorney General, Illinois Attorney General and the FTC.

Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.

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