Dozens of professionals, licensed by New Jersey, have been approached by con artists who impersonate state board and federal investigators and threaten to take away their licenses, according to the state.
It cost one woman nearly $200,000.
She offered to share her story to warn others.
The woman, a licensed health care professional who did not want to reveal her real name to protect her privacy, said she received a call from someone who claimed to be a representative of one of the state’s licensing boards in June.
The caller asked if she was aware that she was being investigated.
“He disclosed that there was an abandoned vehicle on the Texas and Mexico border with drugs associated with my license which was found in March 2021. There are also about 20 bank accounts totaling $7.2 million under my name,” the woman, 32, she said she was told.
He asked a litany of questions, including whether she had worked with or treated someone who is on drugs or would want to frame her, she said.
He said she was being surveilled as part of a state board investigation, and she was also the subject of a federal investigation. Her license had been suspended, too, he said.
“He faxed a license suspension letter with the board letterhead to my workplace,” she said.
The fraudster arranged a conference call with an alleged FBI agent. She said it sounded legit. She was able to listen as the call was connected and she could hear an FBI voice message identifying the agency, and then they were connected to a supposed FBI agent.
The alleged FBI agent asked the alleged board agent if she had been arrested. The two “agents” argued about her status, she said. The man who said he was a board agent convinced the alleged FBI agent he thought the woman was a victim and not a perpetrator.
The FBI impersonator then asked if she wanted to work with an attorney or continue working with the board.
“I became very distraught. I told them I am about 11 weeks pregnant and I know I am innocent. I’d like to continue working with the board,” she said. “The FBI (impersonator) then started talking about the Privacy Act of 1974 as part of a federal investigation, according to which I cannot speak to anyone about this investigation or the board can no longer work with me.”
Next, they sent her to a store to receive a fax that would help to reinstate her license. She was also instructed to fax a copy of her driver’s license.
Then, they faxed paperwork for what was described as a “federal bond.”
“The FBI (impersonator) repeatedly mentioned that the FBI does not want money. The bond is for agreement to intend to cooperate with the FBI,” she said.
She would basically send them her money, and it would be protected by the bond.
In the days that followed, suspicious. she searched online and found a warning on the board’s website about an impersonation scam involving federal and state agencies, but it did not specifically mention that people were impersonating the board, she said.
And the two “agents” were treating her well, she said.
“The scammer did not demand money. Although the bond was mentioned, it was in the pretense that it is needed to clear up the matter,” she said. “There were never any threats made. The scammers on the phone never became impatient or irritated. On the contrary, they sounded patient and understanding.”
A few days later, she sent her first wire transfer from her bank account to what the fraudsters described as an international bond partnership out of Thailand.
“As time went on, this escalated to my investment accounts,” she said. “They said I am part of the identity theft protection program and the Department of Treasury needs to safeguard my finances in order to protect me. If I do not do this, the government cannot guarantee the safety of my money.”
In all, she wired about $196,600 over five weeks.
“During this entire process, I was extremely stressed. The scammers said I cannot speak to anyone, not even my husband because of the Privacy Act,” she said. “I also continued to look up possible fraud cases and could not find any. I was also afraid to do too much research because they said they have internet surveillance on me and not to do funny online searches.”
She even compared the phony FBI documents with ones she found online, and they seemed to match.
But then the FBI impersonator suggested she take out a line of credit at her bank so the Treasury Department could protect that money.
She said she told him that she wasn’t comfortable with that, and he told her to think about it.
She called the FBI office in Austin, Texas — where the agent said he was based — and she was told that there was no agent by that name.
Then she called the FBI in Newark.
“The person who answered the phone said that I have been scammed. She advised me to reach out to the local police and the prosecutor’s office,” she said.
She did, also filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and Consumer Affairs. She also contacted the board.
She asked her bank to recall the wires, but it was too late, it said.
“The money I lost is most of my life savings,” she said, noting she will have to pay taxes on many of the withdrawals.
Consumer Affairs said over the past two years, it has received several dozen reports of similar frauds.
“In response, the division posted warnings on its website, social media platforms, and reached out to all active licensees by email on two separate occasions, urging them to be on alert,” spokeswoman Gema de las Heras said. “The division encourages licensees to contact their professional board directly to verify any information pertaining to the status of their license and to report scam attempts to [email protected] or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.”
If you ever receive a call from someone claiming to be an investigator of any kind, hang up. If you were the subject of an investigation, it’s unlikely any law enforcement official would give you a call. You’d have a knock on your door instead.
Fraudsters are very good at what they do. They know how to push all the right buttons, and they often have some information about you to make the call seem authentic.
She said her con artists used sophisticated social engineering to emotionally trap their victim.
“I just hope by telling the story that scammers have become more sophisticated and rampant, especially during the pandemic, the general public (will have) more education and awareness on how to protect themselves,” she said.
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