It can happen to anyone

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Scam artist targets friends of local resident

Each year, the holiday season brings out the best and the worst in people.

Residents have long supported local charitable organizations while others look for opportunities to steal and scam those who have been struck by a charitable mood during the holiday season.

One resident, Kathy Lewis, said she was the unfortunate target of a scam that used her name and reputation to dupe local residents who thought they were spreading some Christmas cheer.

Lewis said scammers had sent her an email notifying her that one of her computer programs needed an update and provided a link, which was designed to look like a legitimate link from a trusted company. Once she clicked on the link, she was asked to sign into her account, which gave the scammers access to her email account, friend’s list and other personal information.

With that information, scammers began emailing Lewis’ friends and associates, requesting financial support for charitable causes.

“I am the perfect poster child for this kind of scam,” Lewis said. “I chaplain at two hospitals and work with hospice, so when people thought I was asking for help, they believed it.”

The scammers emailed Lewis’ friends and associates saying, “Hello, Can I ask a quick favor from you.” With a response, they then requested a certain amount of money donated via a GooglePlay cards. If someone purchases a card, they are able to send a transaction code electronically, which allows the scammer to access the funds and transfer it to a different account, making the transaction untraceable.

“Because of my name, as soon as people saw that message, their mouths dropped open,” Lewis said. “They had to get in their cars and take their debit cards to get those Google Play cards. That’s how good these people are.”

Lewis said she isn’t sure exactly how many people got scammed when the fake emails went out from what appeared to be her email address, but she does know that at least $1,000 went to the scammers.

“They hacked my email when they said I needed to update my email, and then they opened a gmail account, making it say it came from Kathy Lewis and they contacted people I know and carried on conversations with them like they were me.” she said. “They got all the way into my text messages and got a lot of my information there.”

One eagle-eyed friend was able to notify Lewis of the scam almost immediately, which allowed her to reach out to friends and attempt to stop others from purchasing the Google Play cards.

Lewis said her friend David Reickert, a retired Army veteran who had worked in technology security, received the message from the scammers and immediately recognized it as a scam. Out of curiosity, he did purchase a card and attempted to track the money, but he explained to Lewis that the money was almost immediately withdrawn and was gone.

While he couldn’t identify the thieves, he was able to let Lewis know what was going on and suggested that she change every password to every Internet service she had.

Lewis also said she took all her devices in to Geek Squad to ensure that the scammers had been locked out.

“They pulled the wool over my eyes,” Lewis said. “This is not what you want to have to do, especially around the holidays.

Lewis said community members should be cautious when dealing with the Internet and guard their personal information as much as possible.

“I’m someone who doesn’t do online shopping, I don’t use my card on websites,” but scammers will do anything to try to find a way,” she said.

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