Composite shows stacks of hungered dollar bills, an NYPD SUV with its emergency lights on and a woman typing on a computer.
An Upper East Side woman lost over $44k to a scam last month that police say appears legitimate and is easy to fall for | Upper East Site, Obtained by Upper East Site, Envato Elements

EXCLUSIVE: UES Woman Loses $44k to Realistic-Looking Scam 🆓

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It was Good Friday, and Gloria was terrified. Having received an alert on her computer warning of a virus, she called the number on her screen and was quickly connected with a man who said he worked at Citibank. He told her there were expenses on her account from Moscow and that if she didn’t pay, she could be charged with a felony for trading in pornography.

The next thing she knew, Gloria, 85, was withdrawing $44,500 in cash from her bank account, packaging the bundles in unmarked boxes, and handing them off to couriers sent by the voice on the phone.

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A white packing envelope labeled in black marker with "20,000," in a cardboard box
Scammers instructed Gloria to stuff bundles of cash into white packing envelopes in unmarked boxes to be picked up by couriers | Obtained by Upper East Site

“It felt like I was hypnotized,” Gloria, a pseudonym to protect her privacy, told Upper East Site. “[It felt like] I was being victimized by some powerful force.”

When she woke up the next morning, she realized there was no computer virus, there were no Moscow pornography charges, and she had just been scammed out of $44,500 of her hard-earned money.

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ALSO READ | No, This UES Lawmaker is Not Trying to Sell You a Cryptocurrency Scam

Sadly, her story is all too common.

“A good amount of older adults in Upper Manhattan have unfortunately fallen victim to this scam,” Digital Communications & Crime Prevention Officer Detective Anthony Nuccio of the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct explained to Upper East Site. “[Scammers] know that they’re trusting, they know that maybe they’re not up on a lot of the technology that’s out there right now.”

An older woman's hands are seen typing on a computer
Though she started her Friday afternoon relaxing at her computer with a New Yorker article, Gloria finished it getting scammed out of $44,500 | Envato Elements

Gloria’s afternoon had started like any other. Getting home from work, she settled in with a New Yorker article online and simply clicked a “Continue” button at the end of the page. A legitimate-looking alert popped up, prompting her to call a number to contact Apple’s security support. 

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The notification Gloria received claimed that her computer was infected with a malicious worm called Stuxnet, which, unbeknownst to her, is thought to have been developed by the United States and Israel, and used to cause damage to Iran’s nuclear program more than a decade ago.

Alarmed by the prospect of a virus, Gloria called and was instructed to contact another number, which led her to the fake Citibank employee.

“I trusted him,” she remembered. “He said he had a badge number.”

The scammers disabled Gloria’s computer to get her to call their number to resolve the issue | Obtained and redacted by Upper East Site

After first trying to convince her to send them over $13,000 from a cryptocurrency bank in New Jersey, they told her she’d have to withdraw cash from her account and hand it off to a courier.

Over the phone, the scammer instructed her to package the money — now up to $20,000, in bundles of $100 bills, labeled with their amounts, in a white packing envelope placed inside an unmarked cardboard box.

When a man in a car pulled up to her Upper East Side apartment building, Gloria said the password — ‘camera’ — and gave him the box. Later in the afternoon, the whole process was repeated, this time with $24,500.

“And the next morning, I woke up and I thought, ‘Oh you idiot, you’ve just been scammed!.’”

Two bundles of $100 bills in amounts of $10,000 each on a white surface, labeled with yellow Post-Its
Gloria was instructed to package her money in bundles labeled with their amounts | Obtained by Upper East Site

Gloria spent all day Saturday on the phone with her bank trying to salvage the situation, then had an awkward Easter dinner with a friend she couldn’t bear to share her pain with. Finally, she sought law enforcement assistance on Monday, and the investigation into where her money went remains ongoing, though the odds of finding it are slim.

Det. Nuccio said that while scams like these aren’t new, there has seen a recent spike, with four cases in the 19th Precinct in under three months, and two others in Harlem.

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Every victim received a pop-up computer message prompting them to call numbers — often toll-free — claiming to be trustworthy companies like Microsoft or Apple, and were then instructed over on the phone to withdraw large amounts of cash to hand off to couriers who would meet them in front of their buildings, according to Det. Nuccio.

The pop-ups are designed to mimic real ones, and the virus uploaded by the scammer typically locks the victim’s computer, adding urgency and making them more susceptible to the lie.

An older woman in a blue sweater holds a black smartphone
Besides Gloria, three other Upper East Side seniors and two in Harlem have been targeted in similar scams in the last 10 weeks | Envato Elements

On February 7th, an 80-year-old woman on the Upper East Side lost a total of $81,000, while a 77-year-old man in West Harlem lost $18,000.

Last month, in addition to Gloria’s ordeal, a 69-year-old Upper East Side man lost $18,000, and a 91-year-old woman in East Harlem tried to withdraw $55,000, before being flagged by Chase bank employees who called the police, investigators confirmed to Upper East Site.

On April 2nd, a 74-year-old Upper East Sider got a fake pop-up alert claiming there was child sex abuse material on his computer, telling him he would have to pay so-called federal agents $33,000 to avoid charges. Only after handing over the cash did he realize none of it was real, police say.

A realistic-looking pop-up alert on a laptop
The pop-up alert Gloria received prompted her to call a number claiming to be Apple security support | Obtained and redacted by Upper East Site

“Scammers use technology to mask their actual phone numbers, and use phone numbers of legitimate companies,” Det. Nuccio explained. “They can make the name on the caller ID come up as Microsoft or anything they want.”

Scam victims like Gloria aren’t just turning over their life’s savings to strangers, they believe they’re dealing with trusted people in positions of authority, like computer companies or bank employees.

ALSO READ | NYPD Rolls Out UES ‘E-Commerce Exchange Zone’ to Prevent Robberies & Scams

Det. Nuccio said the best way to protect yourself from scams like these is to always do your research.

“Never call a number that that you’re getting on a pop-up or a email or a text message,” he said. “Because most times those are the scammers trying to get you to call their scam number.”

Photo shows an NYPD officer in a blue jacket handing a crime prevention flier to an older man in glasses outside a subway station.
Det. Nuccio regularly educates the community about scam prevention, and speaks at senior centers and other gatherings to help vulnerable people learn to protect themselves | NYPD

Legitimate bank phone numbers can be found on the back of your debit or credit cards, while utility companies can be reached by calling the number on your latest bill, Det. Nuccio said.

Neighbors should also download the latest virus-protection software on their computers, and regularly change passwords to important accounts, he added.

If you encounter a pop-up or email you believe may be a scam, Det. Nuccio advises that you call the NYPD’s free, 24/7 hotline at 646-610-SCAM (7226), where you can speak to a live officer who will guide you through the issue. If you’ve realized you’ve already been scammed and you’ve lost money, call 911.

“Scams are non-discriminatory. They affect everybody, every level of education, every age, so no one should be ashamed of reporting a crime especially with any kind of financial loss,” Det. Nuccio stressed. “I’m here to tell you you should not be embarrassed because this, unfortunately, happens to everybody.”

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