Local man loses $50K to thieves from fake PayPal email

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, February 2, 2024
Local man loses $50K from PayPal scam email
A fake PayPal email led one local man losing $50,000 to thieves in Cambodia after giving them remote access to his Fifth Third Bank account.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A local man lost $50,000 to scammers after getting a fake email from people pretending to be from PayPal.

Scammers are sending emails that may look like they are coming from PayPal, saying money has been taken out of your PayPal account or that a transaction has been made. But it's all fake and could cost you big time if you fall for it.

"That's a significant amount of money, and I just feel terrible about how it evolved and how I wasn't being more thoughtful," Jeff Feeney said.

Feeney said his huge loss started with an email from scammers pretending to be from his PayPal account. The email said he had an $876 transaction. When Feeney called a number on the email to dispute it, a man told him he could get a refund.

"He asked me to go to my computer and go and access my bank app and go into that and identify the account that I was going to be using to have this money transferred back," he recounted.

Feeney was tricked into giving scammers remote access to his computer so they could supposedly put the money back in his Fifth Third Bank account. They said they would first give him $500 but instead the scammers said they "accidentally" gave him $50,000.

"He said 'let's go to your account' and I looked at my account and sure enough, my account went up by $50,000," Feeney said.

What he didn't know is that the scammers moved that $50,000 from one of Feeney's other Fifth Third Bank accounts, which they accessed on the same website. Then the criminals begged him to send it back, saying it was a mistake.

"He was going crazy saying 'I can't bring this to my boss. I'm gonna lose my job'," Feeney recalled.

So he wired that $50,000, which was actually his, to the scammers who were located in Cambodia. He filed a report with the Lombard Police Department.

"It's going to take a long time for me to get over this. Obviously it was a fairly significant sum for anyone and I haven't reconciled that yet. I try my best not to think about it," he said.

Fifth Third Bank told the I-Team it can't comment on Feeney's case, but Feeney said he can't get the money back since he answered wire transfer questions and signed documents. Fifth Third Bank told the I-Team it helps customers protect themselves from scams and that it works diligently to prevent fraud "particularly regarding wire transfer fraud, our bankers are trained to speak to customers and verify the reason for the wire to help identify scams."

The bank also said it will reach out to the receiving banks to trace funds to determine if a recall of the funds is possible, and that Fifth Third Bank will "will make every attempt to reclaim the funds."

"They're certainly becoming more sophisticated," said Ken Scales, a tech security expert at Scalesology.

He added that this scam, using the PayPal name, has become more popular in the last few years.

"You want to go directly to PayPal from the standpoint of go online, find out what the support number is, call them, or first log into your PayPal account," he said.

Experts say you should always go directly to apps and websites to contact the business for help and never call numbers or click on links in emails from anyone.

"If there's anything that causes you to question things that's anything at all unusual," said Feeney. "I think it's very important for you to be your own advocate and to reach out to your financial institution for help."

You should never give anyone remote access to your computer unless you verified who it is. PayPal told the I-Team these scams take many forms and are not a PayPal specific, adding people should be vigilant about checking who is really messaging them.