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AARP AARP States New Jersey

Have you been the victim of a scam? You are not alone.

Computer crime concept

I’m Stuart (Stu) Zuckerman, 71, and I was in my home in Howell, New Jersey on a quiet summer day when my world was flipped upside down.

From behind a screen, criminals stole $92,500 from my wife and me.

If I had been beaten up by a couple of guys and put into the hospital, I would have been over this thing fast. But this emotional beating is nothing I could have dreamed of. This is a living nightmare and there is no other way to describe it.

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In New Jersey, there were more than 95,000 total fraud reports and more than $231 million in fraud losses last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Yet, you rarely hear anyone share their own personal experience with fraud.

I’m sharing my story because the worst part is thinking that I’m all alone. But anyone can be a victim of a scam or fraud – regardless of age, education or occupation.

The Scam
I received mail from my investment company that said I could save money by transitioning funds from one platform to another, so I decided to look into it. On the phone, I spoke with the first scammer who told me that my account had been “red-flagged.” At this point, I started to worry. They kept me in this state of deep concern for 24 hours.

The next day, I spoke with another scammer who took me on a computer journey. He had control of my computer and was moving down my screen. There were five or six places where he told me to enter a number next to a dash. Once he got all the way down the screen, he told me that my bank and my investment company were both hacked! He told me that a representative from my bank would contact me.

At this point, I was put “under the ether,” which scammers know how to do well. They heighten your emotional state and purposefully make you upset, fearful and agitated.

Then, the next criminal, who I thought was a representative from my bank, asked me to look at my bank account to see if there was any unusual activity, and it all looked fine. Then he said, “You don’t see it, but on my end, it shows $92,500 has been taken from your account.”

I was beside myself.

He said the bank could protect my money, and of course, I wanted to protect it. He told me that in order to protect the $92,500, I would need to make a wire transfer to a bank in Hong Kong. I want to emphasize that until this point, they never rushed me. They never pressured me and never said, “You have to do this now.” They sounded patient and professional, and they presented the wire transfer as an option. They said, “It’s up to you. This is what we do with a lot of people’s money,” which made me feel like I was in control.

However, once I agreed to transfer the money, he told me that “time was of the essence,” because he wanted me to get to the bank before it closed that day. This was the first time I felt any pressure to act quickly.

He gave me the exact numbers to write down to give to the bank teller. The scammer said if anyone asked questions, I should tell them it was a down payment for a condominium in Hong Kong.

Once I saw the $92,500 was transferred out of my account, I was relieved! I thought I was protecting my money by transferring it.

It wasn’t until the next night that the “ether” – like anesthesia – started to wear off. In the middle of the night, it hit me. I felt sick to my stomach. I realized I was targeted by scammers. My wife and I spent the whole night changing our passwords.

The Road Ahead
In retrospect, there were 50 red flags, but no light bulb went off. The scammers had me in such an emotional state that I wasn’t able to think long enough to go, “Wait a second, this is crazy.”

Now I want people to know, that whoever you are and however smart you are, you are a potential victim.

This has been a big learning experience for me, and I look at scams in a whole new light. I’m hyper-vigilant now and I’ve learned to question every email I get; I don’t even open most of them. I disregard anything that says, “Congratulations, you won” and I don’t answer phone numbers I don’t know.

I have reported the scam and I’m now part of the AARP HeyPeers support group over Zoom. In this group, we discuss our different experiences with fraud and talk about the emotional impact. It helps make me feel like I’m less alone.

Experiencing a scam is truly a grieving process. I’m trying to stay positive and do things like joining support groups, reading up on scams and exercising to deal with the stress. Certain days are better than others, but there is forward progress.

I’m sharing my story to tell you that you are not alone. AARP can help if you’ve been taken advantage of by a scam. The Fraud Watch Network is a free service designed to help people spot scams and protect you and your loved ones. I encourage everyone to visit for news and tips on how to spot common scams and report scams in your area.

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