CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – A woman nearly lost $95,000 in an international scam but was saved by some quick work from Cambridge Police.
Now she’s warning others not to become a victim as she did.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared her ordeal with reporters at police headquarters Friday morning.
It began with a phone call earlier this month, from a person purporting to be representing the Chinese Embassy, telling her she was a victim of identity theft.
“They said they have local people that are actually observing (me), so I have to really observe what they say,” the victim said.
After that first phone call, for about a week, she was coerced into buying an international phone and was called multiple times a day, which led her to believe that she was the subject of an international arrest warrant.
“They said, ‘You have to prove yourself, otherwise you will be arrested,'” she said.
At the news conference, she held up what she thought were official Chinese government documents, including her “arrest report,” which she received as part of the scam. The documents, which were fake, had what appeared to be the official Chinese government seal on them.
She was asked to wire transfer $95,000 to a bank in Hong Kong or face arrest. She complied with the threats and transferred the money. However, after the transfer, she became suspicious and contacted Cambridge Police.
An off-duty Cambridge detective, who knew an IRS agent assigned to Hong Kong, started working on the case. He then contacted the IRS agent directly seeking help to freeze the fraudulent account that was used to accept the wire transfer.
Simultaneously, the victim contacted the bank and police in Hong Kong, but she was told reports were not accepted outside of their jurisdiction.
The IRS agent worked with the police in Hong Kong to freeze the suspect’s bank account. The victim’s wire transfer was delayed long enough and her money was ultimately returned to her local account in full by the end of the week.
“It was a horrible, horrible experience,” she said, adding that she was terrified during the time she was contacted by scammers. “During these days, I was worried every day… I wasn’t able to focus.”
Within six days, she was able to get all of her money back, except $80 in bank fees associated with the transfer.
“We’re very happy with the outcome,” said Cambridge Police detective Kenneth Mui, who worked on the case.
Mui said there’s a trend of international robocalls that are coming into the United States and New England.
“Our counterparts overseas, they’re working on learning who’s responsible for the case and they’ll report back to us shortly,” Mui said.
Cambridge Police are warning residents to follow these tips to avoid being scammed:
- Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls.
- Never give money or personal information to someone with whom you don’t have ties and did not initiate contact.
- Trust your instincts. If an unknown caller makes you uncomfortable or says things that don’t sound right, hang up and call authorities.
Victims of phone or online scams can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov and are always encouraged to contact their local Police Department.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge victim recounted how she was drawn into the scam, by people who told her she was a victim of identity theft.
“There was a real voice telling me my ID was stolen, somebody used my ID,” she said.