An Oceano woman is trying to recover nearly $25,000 after she says she was scammed by people claiming to be PayPal employees.
Deborah Santos-Kosinski, 69, thinks that being a senior citizen made her an easy target and she's coming forward with her story to prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.
Santos-Kosinski says she feels helpless after losing more than $24,000 in a PayPal scam.
She says she logged into her bank account and saw a charge for $899, which she didn't recognize.
“I called the number that was listed a gentleman and gentleman whose that term loosely a man answered and said, this is so-and-so from PayPal and how may I help you?”
That was the beginning of her soon-to-be nightmare.
“He said, I have a form for you to fill in and it's a live form, so be very careful when you fill it in and make sure everything's correct and then submitted.”
So she did - an easy enough way to correct the error. But minutes later, it would get much more complicated.
“Then he said, no, you made a mistake. You put $89,000. You put the decimal point in the wrong place. That amount has been deposited into your account.”
She went from trying to get back $899 - to allegedly being credited $89,000. The man on the phone showed her the new deposit in a fake online bank statement.
“He said, I have to transfer you to our banker because this is serious and you could be charged with stealing from PayPal.”
Santos-Kosinski spoke with multiple people claiming to want to help fix her so-called mistake.
“I wasn't even skeptical about it because I trusted them. It sounded like PayPal.”
Santos-Kosinski followed instructions and wired $24,500 to the account they provided - thinking it was a good faith deposit to initiate the reversal of the $89,000.
“I was so nervous about it and terrified that I would go to jail like they said. They said I was going to go to jail for stealing. I would have the IRS after me. I had no reason not to believe that. That may sound naive or something. but it just sounded so legitimate to me."
But about a week later when she checked her bank account - it was depleted.
“I was expecting all of my money to be in there. I expected part of the $89,000 to be gone.”
“Scammers will stop at nothing to steal money from anyone, whether you're over the age of 50 or not,” said Amy Nofziger, AARP Director of Fraud and Victim Support.
KSBY spoke with AARP, who says scams have been on the rise since the pandemic and aren't slowing down.
“Certainly during the pandemic, we did hear a lot from people who were getting unsolicited phone calls. So the criminals certainly stole a lot of money from us and they're not going to stop just because the pandemic might be over.”
For anyone who gets scammed - in addition to the financial loss, it also takes an emotional toll.
“They're upset with themselves, right? They feel like they should have known better. But no, the criminal shouldn't have been doing this in the first place,” said Nofziger.
AARP says the most common way scammers get people to pay them is with a prepaid gift card - and no reputable company would request that.
Santos-Kosinski is currently contacting multiple law enforcement agencies and the banks involved, but has not made any progress in getting her money back.
The worst part is - the money in her account was from a recent home equity loan to do repairs on her house - and now she is on the line to pay that back.