Grandmother says she lost thousands in PayPal phishing scam

Tish Casey received an email from PayPal on Memorial Day saying she had bought cryptocurrency. (Source: WVUE)
Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 11:22 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE/Gray News) – A woman in New Orleans is fighting to recoup thousands of dollars that were stolen from her in an online scam.

“I was just horrified that it had happened to me and was very embarrassed,” Tish Casey said.

Casey received an email from PayPal on Memorial Day saying she had bought cryptocurrency.

“I clicked on it and it was an invoice and the invoice was for a purchase of cryptocurrency in my name, through PayPal,” Casey said. “I don’t know, the word cryptocurrency just jumped out at me and the amount and I was like, ‘Wow, wait a minute.’”

There was a phone number at the bottom of the email, so Casey called it, immediately.

She thought she was calling PayPal to tell the company there had been a mistake but said it sounded like it was a call center instead.

“It was very speeded up, it was all kind of, ‘I’m going to ask you to do this,’ and you were rushing to catch up to what they were saying,” Casey explained.

Despite having reservations, Casey listened to the instructions she was being given by the man on the phone.

First, she had to download an app so that the person she was talking to could monitor every move she made on her phone, convincing her it was to help her through this process.

Then, she was instructed to use her Venmo account.

Casey said the person on the other end of the phone continued to give directions and ensured if she followed the steps, they would be able to resolve her problem.

She was told to make Venmo payments to someone else, in the amount of $4,700. Another one for $399. Then, $499. And $3,900.

Casey didn’t know it at the time, but all the money was really going into the account of scammers.

After sending money via Venmo, Casey was told to buy an American Express e-gift card for almost $3,000.

“At that point, I was almost in tears, I was able to grab my iPad and I googled in PayPal cryptocurrency email scams and all this info popped up while I was on the phone with the guy,” Casey said.

Casey said she hung up and the weight of what she had just done hit her as she tried to explain it to her husband.

“I was legitimately hysterical and could hardly get the story out and to his credit, he was very calm about it,” Casey remembered.

They started calling their bank, PayPal, Venmo and American Express, to put a stop to the transactions.

Although she was able to shut down her PayPal and Venmo accounts and get back some of the money paid to scammers, she’s still out around $3,000.

According to cyber security expert Nam Nguyen, this is a classic phishing scam.

“They’re just casting the bait out there to see who might fall victim to it,” Nguyen said. “They’re targeting the older generation, trying to induce the panic.”

In May, the Federal Trade Commission warned about scams like this one on its website, warning the scam may not only end with lost funds but could result in identity theft.

Nguyen suggests these steps to check if an email you receive is legitimate.

First, hover your mouse over the email address it came from.

“It might say something like customer service at PayPal something, something, something, dot com. Well, we all know that PayPal only has PayPal dot com so that would probably be the first telltale sign,” Nguyen explained.

Next, read the body of the email carefully.

“Cyber criminals are getting more and more clever but sometimes their grammar isn’t that great,” Nguyen said.

Then before clicking on a link, hover your mouse over it. It should expose the true link. If it doesn’t match the link you’re expecting, that’s another red flag.

“There’s no harm in calling a friend and asking for help, really, somebody might be able to think with a clear mind and say here are the telltale signs, I don’t think this is legit,” Nguyen said.

Finally, if you ever get an email that looks like it’s from a company concerning a problem, search for the company’s phone number on its corporate website. Never call the phone number listed in the body of an email.