An elderly US grandmother has fallen victim to a cruel scam that drained her of her life savings after she was convinced that a warrant had been issued for her arrest.
Henriette Schmuhl, 74, lost more than $USD230,000 ($331,000) to scammers who accused the grandmother of money laundering and drug trafficking and that in order to clear her name she was required to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars into a bank account.
The scam took a heavy toll on Schmuhl who kept the incident from her family.
“I was so afraid. I was so afraid. And lying,” she told CBS News.
Schmuhl’s ordeal began when she received a phone call out of the blue from a man claiming to be a federal agent from Homeland Security named Andrew Hall.
“‘I want to let you know there is a warrant out for your arrest.’ What?! I’ve never done anything,” said Schmuhl, as she recalled the initial phone contact.
The individual impersonating the federal agent communicated with Schmuhl via phone and text, later informing her that she required a new social security number.
“‘Before we change your social security number, we’re going to have to move your money out of your accounts to protect you,'” Schmuhl recalled Hall saying.
When Schmuhl voiced her concerns over transferring such large sums of money the alleged scammer was quick to shoot them down.
“‘I’m saving you. I’m helping you out,” she said Hall explained to her.
Over a two-month period Schmuhl converted amounts ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 into Bitcoin and various gift cards.
Schmuhl’s daughter-in-law, Janelle Hutchison said it was heartbreaking to see her mother-in-law lose so much money.
“I know how hard she’s worked her entire life and for that money just to be gone completely, it breaks my heart,” she said.
After informing her family of the incident, the police were alerted and the FBI became involved. The investigation into the matter remains ongoing.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Targeting Scams report found that Australians lost over $2 billion to scams in 2021.
People aged 65 and over reported the highest losses, with losses increasing with age.
Over $2 billion in losses were reported to Scamwatch and other organisations in 2021, but research shows that a third of #scam victims never report it, so the true figure could be even higher. Read our latest Targeting Scams Report for more info: https://t.co/jPXjEWSKtt pic.twitter.com/baFxmjDVJc
— Scamwatch_gov_au (@Scamwatch_gov) July 3, 2022
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said “scammers are the most opportunistic of all criminals”.
“Scam activity continues to increase, and last year a record number of Australians lost a record amount of money,” Rickard said.
“They [scammers] pose as charities after a natural disaster, health departments during a pandemic, and love interests every day.
“The true cost of scams is more than a dollar figure as they also cause serious emotional harm to individuals, families, and businesses.”