CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Christine McGee reached out to the NewsNation affiliate WHTM investigators after one of her elderly family members was conned out of more than $5,000.
McGee said it all started with a phone call.
“The area code said Washington D.C. when it came up on her phone and it indicated it was a federal agency. The caller said they were with the FBI and that her bank accounts were compromised and they needed her help with the investigation to capture the criminals. They told her not to tell anyone because it could ruin the investigation. Then they told her to go to the bank to withdraw money,” McGee said.
The elderly woman withdrew thousands of dollars from several banks. McGee says the scammer first told her family member to go to a bitcoin machine/ATM but because she did not know how to do that they told her to buy gift cards instead.
“At that point, they wanted the card numbers so they were withdrawing the money from the gift cards. The gift cards were about $500 a piece,” said McGee.
McGee said one of the banks did ask the elderly woman why she was withdrawing thousands of dollars.
“When she went to the bank she was on the phone with the criminal and the bank asked why she needed the money, in a way that they are allowed, and she told them the money was for a medical emergency,” said McGee.
NewsNation affiliate WHTM reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging to see what banks can do if a scam is suspected.
“While businesses, including banks, are not required to question, it is a good practice and standard operating procedure in many banks. If a bank sees something suspicious or concerning, they should simply and privately ask the older adult about it. Maybe they could delay the ability to make the withdraw and take the older adult into a private area to talk to a manager/supervisor. The banking staff could ask the reason for the withdraw, explain what their concern is and then ensure the older adult that their intent is not to be ‘nosey’ — rather it is to protect their customers (all ages) from scammers,” said Karen Gray, Communications Director Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
A bank can delay a withdraw by calling the Pennsylvania Dept. of Aging’s Protective Services hotline (1-800-490-8505). Gray says Protective Services can talk to the older adult over the phone or come to the bank and talk to them in person.
“At the end of the day, if the older adult has full cognitive capacity and the ability to make decisions and understand ramifications of the decisions they make, Protective Services cannot stop them. However, we sure will try to ensure they actually do have the cognition to understand fully and have the information warning them about scams,” said Gray.
One of the stores where McGee’s elderly family member purchased the gift cards also warned her they thought she might be part of a scam but it wasn’t enough to stop her from purchasing the cards.
“In this whole scenario, I felt like people didn’t speak up hard enough. They went so far and then felt they were encroaching on someone’s personal privacy and I just think people should speak up a little harder,” said McGee. “It is hard to catch these people so the only way to stop this from happening is to educate.”