‘They’re evil’: Retirees conned out of life savings in double imposter scam

FBI warns of ‘Phantom Hacker’ scam targeting seniors’ nest eggs

SAN ANTONIO – Dennis Shockey logged on to his computer after breakfast like he did every morning. He was about to be sucked into a month-long swindle that wiped out a lifetime of savings for the 80-year-old retiree and his wife, Joy.

“They’re evil,” Joy Shockey said. “It seems like they take advantage of elderly people that worked all their lives to have some money to fall back on.”

In all, the Shockeys say they were taken for $170,550.

They are victims of what the FBI has called the Phantom Hacker scam. It’s a more complex, multi-layered version of the old tech support scam.

The FBI warns is circulating and targeting elderly people and their nest eggs. In just the first half of this year, the FBI says it’s received some 19,000 complaints about tech support scams, ripping people off for more than $540 million.

For the Shockeys, the nightmare started with his computer screen locked and a warning popped up on the screen. It had a phone number for whom he thought was Microsoft.

“That’s strange. I’d never seen this. So, I called the number,” he said.

He spoke to a woman who called herself “Jessica.” She was kind, concerned, and convincing.

During the next 30 days, Dennis spoke to not one, but two imposters. First, Jessica, the supposed Microsoft representative who convinced him foreign hackers were at work and she could help if he gave her remote access to his computer.

“All this time, our computer has all these numbers rotating on the television,” Joy said.

Jessica told him to check his financial accounts. Enter imposter number two. Dennis spoke to a man who called himself Rick Taylor, pretending to be with the fraud department from one of his banks.

“So he said, ‘Uh, yes, that appears that, uh, in the wee hours of the morning, there was three attempts to take money from your account,’” Dennis said.

Shockey was worried.

“Fear is the number one tool criminals will use,” said Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support.

“They get you under emotional ether. They get you quickly to fight or flight. I have to solve this problem today,” she said. “And, to be honest, they are good at what they do.”

The imposters instructed Dennis to move his savings from two financial institutions to a secure cryptocurrency account for safekeeping. They even gave him a sort of script to say in case the bank employees asked questions.

The Shockeys were told their $170,550 would be returned to them in three checks on a certain date.

“I waited,” Dennis said. “I called Jessica but no answer. By late morning, I told Joy, “We’ve been had. We’ve been scammed.”

Joy said they were stunned and couldn’t even cry.

“It’s like getting kicked in the stomach,” Dennis said.

The Shockeys have since sold their cars to pay their bills. Relatives have started a fund on gofundme.com.

The retired Kelly Air Force Base civil servant and school office worker have lost their nest egg, but they will have their faith.

“Jesus is our Lord and Savior,” Dennis said. “He is our protector.”

On its website, Microsoft says it does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. And, error and warning messages from Microsoft never include a phone number.

Fraud experts say never give a stranger remote access to your computer.

Verify phone numbers, and don’t call phone numbers in pop-ups.

Never wire money to people you don’t know.

And if you have a gut feeling that something is off, Nofziger says to pause and talk to someone you trust.

“If anybody you are engaging with is telling you to keep a secret and not tell anybody, stop,” she said. “Get out of the situation and call a trusted friend.”

Anyone can call the AARP Fraud helpline at 877-908-3360.


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About the Authors

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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