Email scammers sent an Uber to the home of an 80-year-old woman who responded to a well-timed email scam, in a bid to make sure she went to the bank and wired money to the fraudsters. In this case, the woman figured out she was being scammed before embarking for the bank, but her story is a chilling reminder of how far crooks will go these days to rip people off.
Travis Hardaway is a former music teacher turned app developer from Towson, Md. Hardaway said his mother last month replied to an email she received regarding an appliance installation from BestBuy/GeekSquad. Hardaway said the timing of the scam email couldn’t have been worse: His mom’s dishwasher had just died, and she’d paid to have a new one delivered and installed.
“I think that’s where she got confused, because she thought the email was about her dishwasher installation,” Hardaway told KrebsOnSecurity.
Hardaway said his mom initiated a call to the phone number listed in the phony BestBuy email, and that the scammers told her she owed $160 for the installation, which seemed right at the time. Then the scammers asked her to install remote administration software on her computer so that they could control the machine from afar and assist her in making the payment.
After she logged into her bank and savings accounts with scammers watching her screen, the fraudster on the phone claimed that instead of pulling $160 out of her account, they accidentally transferred $160,000 to her account. They said they needed her help to make sure the money was “returned.”
“They took control of her screen and said they had accidentally transferred $160,000 into her account,” Hardaway said. “The person on the phone told her he was going to lose his job over this transfer error, that he didn’t know what to do. So they sent her some information about where to wire the money, and asked her to go to the bank. But she told them, ‘I don’t drive,’ and they told her, “No problem, we’re sending an Uber to come help you to the bank.”
Hardaway said he was out of town when all this happened, and that thankfully his mom eventually grew exasperated and gave up trying to help the scammers.
“They told her they were sending an Uber to pick her up and that it was on its way,” Hardaway said. “I don’t know if the Uber ever got there. But my mom went over to the neighbor’s house and they saw it for what it was — a scam.”
Hardaway said he has since wiped her computer, reinstalled the operating system and changed her passwords. But he says the incident has left his mother rattled.
“She’s really second-guessing herself now,” Hardaway said. “She’s not computer-savvy, and just moved down here from Boston during COVID to be near us, but she’s living by herself and feeling isolated and vulnerable, and stuff like this doesn’t help.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seniors are often targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite. More importantly, they also usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.
“Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed of having been scammed,” the FBI warned in May. “They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators.”
In 2021, more than 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The FBI says that represents a 74 percent increase in losses over losses reported in 2020.
The abuse of ride-sharing services to scam the elderly is not exactly new. Authorities in Tampa, Fla. say they’re investigating an incident from December 2021 where fraudsters who’d stolen $700,000 from elderly grandparents used Uber rides to pick up bundles of cash from their victims.