At age 72, Aurelia Costigan doesn’t do any online banking and rarely even shops online.
So, when the Pittsburgh woman received a phone call from someone claiming to be from her bank about supposed suspicious charges on her account, she believed him when he said that Zelle could be used to fix the problem.
“I had no idea what Zelle is, so I said, ‘well, what’s that?’” said Costigan. “He said, ‘it’s protection for your card.’”
Zelle is really a way to send and receive money online.
Costigan said the man on the phone claimed he needed to verify her identity to correct the supposed fraudulent charges and he asked for her Social Security number.
“I didn’t think unusual of that due to the fact that I was talking to a bank representative. I thought I was,” said Costigan. “So, I gave him my social.”
A big part of the reason why Costigan trusted the person was because the number he was calling from matched the number on the back of her bank card.
It’s a common tactic that scammers use, known as number spoofing.
Costigan said after the call ended, she went to a local bank to verify the suspicious charges had been fixed.
That was when bank staff informed her that they never called her, and she realized it was all a scam.
Within hours, charges of around $1,800 popped up on her bank account.
“Being on Social Security, that’s my backup money that I’ve been saving for years,” said Costigan. “I was devastated.”
Luckily, Costigan was able to get her bank’s help to recover the money a few weeks later. But she knows not everyone is that lucky.
That’s why she’s sharing her story as a warning to others.
“These people are getting away with this every single day,” said Costigan. “Give absolutely no information about yourself to anybody on the telephone.”
Her experience is part of an alarming nationwide trend of scammers targeting unsuspecting elderly people using these kinds of peer-to-peer payment (P2P) apps.
This week, a group of senators including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) calling for the bureau to better protect consumers against these kinds of scams on apps like Venmo, PayPal and Zelle.
“The testimony to the Aging Committee makes clear that more can and should be done to protect older adults and other consumers from scams involving P2P apps,” the senators wrote.
The letter refers to reported efforts already underway to address the problem.
“We are encouraged that CFPB’s reported considerations appear to be in line with the data, concerns and recommendations raised during the Aging Committee’s frauds and scams hearing,” they wrote.
Costigan is hoping the move will help prevent others from falling victim to con artists.
“They need to do something because this world is out of control with these people that scam people,” said Costigan. “Elderly people like myself, we were always the trusting type of people. We never thought about all the technology there is today how easy it is to do that.”
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