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‘He kept winning my confidence:’ Couple loses $21,000 from social engineering scam

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 3:26 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:32 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - A Henrico woman said she and her husband lost thousands to scammers. Now, the couple wants to help and warn others who may not be tech-savvy.

It all started with a strange screen on Karen Geiges’ computer, telling her to call a number for help, and calling the number led to conversations with scammers who convinced them to buy $21,000 in gift cards.

“I said call the number, we called the number, and we got a guy named Harvey,” she explained. “He said, ‘we called you at four in the morning, two times, to make sure you had OK’d a $21,000 charge for child pornography on the phone,’ he said ‘you did that right?’ My husband and I said, ‘of course not. No, we didn’t.”

Geiges and her husband admit they are not great with technology, and they were fearful after speaking with “Harvey.” They were later led to believe they talked to Ally bank to get rid of the so-called fraudulent charges.

“He said, ‘we try to get the same amount of money as a duplication, so when the banks see there is another charge of the same amount, the bank will flag it and take the charge off,’ she said. “He said we only have a certain amount of time to do this. He told me Target, Lowes, JCPenney and Sephora were the cards I had to buy. They were special cards encrypted, and the bank knows about these cards.”

Geiges proceeded to panic buy hundreds of gift cards for the stores, mainly from grocery stores. She said they were told who they thought was with the fraud department at Ally Bank would call them the day after buying the gift cards. They decided to call the bank themselves before getting a callback.

A Henrico woman called 12 On Your Side after she and her husband lost thousands to scammers....
A Henrico woman called 12 On Your Side after she and her husband lost thousands to scammers. The couple wants to help and warn others who may not be tech savvy.(NBC 12)

“My husband called Ally, and they stated ‘we haven’t talked to you since October,’ then we knew [it was a scam],” Geiges explained. “I spoke with a detective in Henrico; he said he gets four and five [reports of scams] a day, he said ‘you’re lucky you only lost 21,000.′”

Geiges sold her car to pay off the credit cards used to buy the gift cards.

“We have to move on. My hope is that we can help people. I can help someone because, believe me, it has been heartbreaking and time-consuming and the shame you feel is unbelievable,” she said.

Cyber security expert Alex Nette says the couple appears to be the victims of a social engineering scam.

“Oftentimes for them, they can impersonate banks and technology companies, and they leverage trust to get us to do things we may not normally do. Especially when it sounds like something scary or like there is a certain authority figure that could get involved like the police or this time of year they pretend to be the IRS,” said Nette. “The scammers are extremely successful with tricking us.”

Nette says the scams can start with a pop-up on a screen instructing you to call a number or via an e-mail that appears to be the address of someone you know. By the time you call the number that seems to be from a reputable company, Nette says you are convinced the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.

“They have really great tech support, so they are trying to help you walk through this process because, ultimately, on the receiving end, they are hoping to get some money out of you,” Nette explained. “That’s a really tough space to be in because we trust them not only as the experts but also in that they are trying to help us solve this issue.”

If you’re asked to buy a gift card to pay for something or to get rid of “fraudulent charges,” don’t do it. Nette says some stores are even starting to look out for this.

“Some larger companies like Walmart and Target, their register folks are trained to identify if someone comes with maybe five $100 gifts cards or larger. Generally, they will ask and say, hey why are you buying these gift cards and maybe identify and stop the fraud before it becomes an issue for them,” he said.

Nette says if you get a strange screen or pop-up window, try to turn your computer off and on to see if the issue goes away, and instead of calling the number on the screen, find a number directly for a company such as Microsoft or Apple.

Learn more on how to avoid a social engineering scam below:

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