LARGO, Fla. -- It starts with a broken computer nearly a year ago.
Now, 77-year-old Harvey Goodman says he’s out nearly $150,000 in his life savings due to a scam that police say is all too common.
“It can happen to absolutely anyone. They are slick, they are sophisticated. They are very fast talking and I’m a New Yorker, I thought I talked fast,” Goodman said.
Goodman said he called a group that purported to be affiliated with Microsoft, which fixed his computer for nearly $300. But a month ago, he got a notice his renewal was up for about $400. Not wanting it, he called a number with an 813 area code provided.
“This was a two-day ordeal. To make a very long story short. In order to get my $400 canceled, they had to take control of the computer. Bingo. That’s where I make my mistake,” Goodman said.
Goodman said he allowed access when he was told to type in the refund amount, and it wouldn’t allow him to enter the numbers.
“They said let me show you your account you have the money back in there. They showed me the account. Not only was the money in there but an extra $50,000 was in the account. And I said to them, 'Look, this isn’t my money. I don’t want it,'” he said.
He said the person on the other line was upset, afraid they would lose their job. Thinking he was doing the right thing, Goodman followed instructions to transfer back $49,500 to an overseas bank and note it for a real estate transaction. He said the person on the phone showed him the money was in the account. The process repeated again. Ultimately, Goodman says he sent nearly $150,000.
“Little did I know, that was the scam, showing I had the money in my account -- when in fact -- they took my money,” Goodman said.
“My heart sunk. It was one of those times in your life I just couldn’t believe what I was actually seeing. And kind of really, really upset with myself. I didn’t educate my dad with this,” said Goodman’s daughter, Charli Goodman.
His daughter -- a police officer in Salt Lake City, Utah -- said she noticed the funds were gone.
“Since these were just below the threshold, it makes it difficult for the FBI to freeze those funds. So these individuals running these scams are very, very aware,” she said.
Goodman said they reported it the FBI and the Largo Police Department, who said fraud is an all-too-common occurrence.
“That social isolation is one of the key underlying factors for so many of our fraud calls for service and our exploitation calls,” said Largo Police Senior Services Officer Joel Quattlebaum. “So I’d say one of the key things that can be done is maintaining that contact with family and friends, having that constant conversation, 'Hey, have you had anything new? Are there any updates for me?'”
Officer Quattlebaum said already this week, he’s taken a report of someone mailing out $30,000 in small denominations to different locations.
“It’s absolutely critical to defeat the social isolation and to also look for any of these red flags and if you see them, the urgency, fear of consequences, anything that trickles the hairs on the back of your neck, listen to it report it,” he said.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2019, IC3 received more than 467,000 complaints about different schemes and fraud, with losses of more than $3.5 billion. Florida had the second most victims (more than 27,000) and losses by victim per state (more than $293 million).
“It’s really amazing if you think of just how creative, how ingenious, the bad actors are. They have concocted literally every type of scheme, every type of sales pitch that you can imagine to get people to fall victim to their schemes,” said FBI Special Agent Andrew Sekela.
He said generally, the perpetrators are a network of co-conspirators outside the U.S., operating from overseas call centers. They may use common company names and make websites and emails look legitimate.
“These bad actors have playbooks in front of them, scripts that they follow. They understand people’s emotions, they prey on those emotions. They know what they have to do or say to get someone to believe them, to get someone to act immediately,” he said.
In 2019, IC3 reported more than 1,200 victims in Florida of a tech support crime. Sekela said they also see romance scams. He said the number one type of fraud they see in terms of volume and dollar amount is business email compromise.
“The average business email compromise is about $75,000 so that’s a large hit to take with just one successful scam. But we average over an 80 percent recovery rate both in the FBI in general and within the FBI Tampa division,” said Sekela.
But he said it’s unlikely someone will get their money back with tech support and romance frauds.
“The bottom line is -- especially when it comes to fraudsters -- don’t believe any communication that you receive. Whether it’s a phone call, an email or a text message,” Sekela said. “Don’t ever take it on its face value that the person who says they’re contacting you is who they are. Always verify that independently yourself.”
He said if someone thinks they’ve fallen victim, to file a police report and with the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or through IC3. He said if a wire transfer was made, to notify the bank immediately to let them know it was fraudulent.
Wells Fargo, where Goodman said he banked, issued the following statement after hearing of Goodman’s story:
“We are saddened to hear that a fraudster was able to scam a customer out of their hard-earned savings. Each year our team members are trained to help discover and address risk factors that may expose financial abuse. We encourage customers to sit down with a branch banker to discuss fraud prevention, and we provide information [wellsfargomedia.com] and direct customers to our online resources [wellsfargo.com] to help them identify and avoid common scams.”
The bank said customers can also set an alert for a large cash withdrawal, “so that someone they trust has the chance to check on the circumstances.”
A Microsoft spokesperson said “To avoid becoming a victim of phishing and scams, we encourage customers to practice safe computing habits. You can learn more about best practices here.”
If someone has fallen victim, law enforcement says the community may also have resources to help and to call their local jurisdictions.
“It’s not the fault of the victim. It’s something where they’re being targeted and then it’s the community’s opportunity to help out,” said Quattlebaum.
“I do think it is a perfect storm right now in the fact that COVID has affected people’s income and they are desperate sometimes to fill that income to support their families. And then -- with the fact we are disconnected with our families because of COVID-19 -- that it really is a perfect storm for vulnerable adults and citizens to be scammed,” said Charli Goodman.
Harvey Goodman said he was a floor trader and member of the New York Stock Exchange for about 30 years. He’s resided in Florida for almost 20 years.
“Four years of college and grad school, I thought I was fairly intelligent and to realize that I was scammed out of the money, naivety. Stupidness. Bad stroke of luck. You can use any adjective or phrase that you want,” Goodman said.
Now, he said he plans to go live with his daughter. His family has started a GoFundme page to raise money.
Goodman said after his son’s friend saw a social media post with the page, he was able to stop his mother-in-law from a similar situation.
“If I can save one senior or anybody from this happening again, I’ve done my job,” he said.
Goodman said the motto for the Rotary Club of Indian Rocks Beach, where he is a member, is service above self, and that’s what he’s doing. He hopes by sharing his story he helps at least one other.
“Don’t judge me for what happened. Judge me because it happened,” he said.
You can learn more from the FBI about cybercrime and common risks here.