An 84-year-old Hobart woman owed $20,000 to her bank after she says scammers gained access to her computer.
The incident report from the King County Sheriff’s Office tells a troubling tale. It begins when Betty Downing’s computer was comprised after a notice appeared on her screen, saying it had a virus.
Downing called the number that popped up on her screen to see if she could get her computer fixed. But that’s exactly what the scammers wanted.
“I just feel so damaged,” Downing explained.
To receive payment for the so-called repairs, the scammer convinced Betty to sign up for online banking.
They asked Betty to download a program so they could remotely access her computer to help. She agreed and downloaded the program, which gave the fraudsters control over her computer. They also told her to set up online banking.
“So I did, which was all he needed because he had access to everything. But I didn’t know that,” Downing said.
The scammers told Downing she overpaid for the repairs and she was due an online refund of $500.
“He said put $500 in there and then hit enter. Do not put $5,000, put $500. When I pushed the enter button, $5,000 popped up. I said, ‘Oh my gosh… $5,000 went in now.’ Now I know he did it, but I thought I did, and I felt so guilty,” Downing explained.
But it was all part of their plan. The scammer did not give Downing $5,000. He actually tricked her into making a credit advance to her own account. It was really all of her money. That’s when the scammers started to demand payment from Downing.
She withdrew $5,000 from her Bank of America branch. She used that cash and her debit card to send multiple money orders at close to $2,400 each.
Downing says no one from the bank ever called to question a single transaction.
Stacey Dahmen, Betty’s daughter and a former banker, blames the bank for not catching the unusual account activity.
“I go to another town and buy a cup of coffee and my card’s blocked because it’s not a typical transaction. Even if you don’t catch it the first day, the second day… the respect to pick up a phone is it that hard and say, this isn’t a typical transaction.”
But by the time Dahmen intervened, the scammers had wreaked havoc on her mother’s account. Downing had lost more than $20,000.
“I’m angry because there was no protection,” Dahmen said.
Bank of America also told the family that no refund would be provided.
“I called and said ‘I can’t make these payments. We just have social security between us,’” Downing said.
Desperately, Downing asked for a hardship plan to pay off the loss. But she says the bank sent her a letter declining the offer.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart says Downing should be treated as a victim of a crime.
“They conned her into taking over her computer right from the start. This is a crime from day one as far as I’m concerned,” Urquhart explained.
After hearing Downing’s story, Jesse spoke to Bank of America. The bank reopened Downing’s case and decided to give Downing credit on all the fraudulent charges.
“Thank you for everything you do. That so great,” Downing said.
Bank of America Statement:
We are always on the lookout for suspicious and unusual activity, and consistently drive improvements to help detect and alert customers when potential scam activity is suspected.
As Ms. Downing reported to law enforcement, she provided the perpetrator with permission to remotely access her computer, giving him complete access to her accounts and other personal information, without which the scam could not have taken place. As a result, all transactions related to this case either were or appeared to be generated by her. While we are sympathetic to Ms. Downing and other victims of cruel scams like this, the resolution to this case is atypical and based on a number of factors unrelated to the scam. – Britney Sheehan, Regional Media Relations
For more tips on how to protect yourself from scammers, click here.