Texas man scammed out of $80k when he tried to do the right thing

Now, he’s warning others about the PayPal invoice scam

SAN ANTONIO – When a Texas businessman got an email about a purchase he knew was not legit, he tried to do the right thing. But he ended up helping the bad guys, and now he’s out $80,000.

“It’s brutal. It feels like somebody basically stuck a knife in you,” said Steve, who did not want to publicize his last name.

It was a punch in the gut -- and wallet. His devastating ordeal all started with an email from PayPal, he said, and an invoice.

“I knew it was fake because it was a charge for an Apple iPhone,” he said.

So, he hit delete. That might have been the end of it. But, when Steve logged on to his PayPal account, he saw charges for two iPhones. Someone, he said, had created a real invoice for fake charges. Steve decided to call the phone number included in the invoice message to alert PayPal of fraudulent activity.

He thought he was talking to customer service.

“He said, ‘So you have a bad charge. We’ll take care of that.’ Blah, blah, blah, and, unfortunately, l fell for it,” Steve said.

Here’s where it got tricky. Steve said the fake customer service representative instructed him to load software so he could credit his account. But, what Steve had really done was give the scammer remote access to his computer, including his bank accounts.

Not only did he have remote access, Steve believes the con logged his keystrokes.

“He asked me to sign in to my bank account to see if there was a charge for $1499.99, and there was,” he said.

Steve said he was told to type $1499.99 into his account for the refund. But there was a problem.

“It kept coming up on the screen $149,999,” Steve said. “I said, ‘Something is wrong. It’s not taking the decimal point.’”

Steve said the fraudster manipulated his accounts, playing a shell game between Steve’s personal and business accounts to make it appear he’d been reimbursed way too much money.

“Then they go into their drama acting school and scam school saying, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I’m going to lose my job.’ Acts like he’s crying. ‘I’m going to get fired,’” Steve said. “Their modus operandi is to make you involved in their emotional drama, and they rush you, rush you, rush you.”

To rectify the overpayment, the imposter told Steve to wire the money back, beginning with a payment of $80,000. He did.

Soon realizing it was all a trick, Steve did not wire the balance.

PayPal responded when reached for comment:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy on our platform for attempted fraudulent activity, and our teams work tirelessly to protect our customers. We are aware of this phishing scam, and encourage customers to always be vigilant online and to contact Customer Service directly if they suspect they are a target of a scam,” a company spokesman said.

PayPal also has information about fraud awareness on its website.

“A lot of money is at stake here,” Jason Meza, a Better Business Bureau regional director, said.

To protect yourself from similar schemes, Meza said to beware of unusual forms of payment.

“In other words, they’re asking you to do a wire transfer, asking you to do an unsecure method, gift cards, those are highly lucrative for them to get the money, and it’s gone,” Meza said. “It’s simply cash in the wind.”

Also, independently verify whom you are calling by looking up the number, and never install software while on the phone with someone you don’t really know.

As for Steve, he’s working to get his money back from a bank in Hong Kong and feels compelled to warn others who also think it could never happen to them.

“These people are ruthless,” he said. “They will destroy a person financially.”

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About the Authors

Marilyn Moritz is an award-winning journalist dedicated to digging up information that can make people’s lives a little bit better. As KSAT’S 12 On Your Side Consumer reporter, she focuses on exposing scams and dangerous products and helping people save money.

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