NEWTON – It’s a phone call that a Newton grandmother would give anything to go back and not answer. It happened last week; the caller said he was a federal law enforcement official, and he feared she was the victim of identity theft.
“He said, ‘Alright, are you ready to go to the bank?’ I said yes,” the woman who did not want to be identified said. “He spelled his name for me and he actually had me put his phone number into Google. It took me directly to the US Marshals Service website.”
Elsewhere on the actual US Marshals Service website, there is a warning for this exact scam.
Distracted on the phone call, the Newton victim didn’t go digging. And unlike other popular schemes, there was no urgency, and no threatening tone. The caller calmly offered options for moving her money temporarily until a new Social Security number could be issued.
She told WBZ she began to let her guard down, as the man pretended to help her. “Then you’re going to go and use that money to buy Bitcoin. It’ll go into a wallet that is strictly yours. Your name is on it; it’s your money,” she recalled him advising her, so that her savings wouldn’t be inaccessible in a frozen account.
Over the next 24 hours, the woman visited four local Citizens Bank branches and withdrew $30,000 in cash. She said no one ever questioned her.
“The teller said, ‘We don’t carry that kind of money. The best we can do is give you $9000 and small bills. He called over and found out the branch in Needham could give me $10,000,” the woman recalled.
She spent hours on the phone with the man, as she drove to banks in Newton Centre, Needham, Chestnut Hill, and Newtonville. She used Bitcoin ATMs in Waltham and Newton, and after sending the first $20,000 she drove to her attorney’s office. “I wasn’t two sentences into the story when he said that’s a scam,” she recalled.
Citizens Bank wrote in a statement: “We are sorry to hear that one of our customers may have been the victim of a scam…we do work closely with law enforcement when incidents occur and provide training for our colleagues in order to help detect such incidents.”
Back in February WBZ reported on a thwarted scheme in Norwood; an alert teller at Rockland Trust called police, concerned for a senior customer trying to take out $9000. That victim kept their money, but personal finance experts say it’s a slippery slope.
“Do we really want bank tellers screening us and asking, how much money? What are you going to use this money for? Is this a legitimate purpose? I think we’re invading privacy at this point,” said Professor Jay Zagorsky of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.
Newton Police are investigating, but this victim’s $20,000 is long gone.
“I’m just pulling myself together now. It was just a terrible ordeal. This can happen to you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. It doesn’t matter how skeptical you are. You can be had. They’re very good at what they do,” the victim said.