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Akron woman loses $40,000 to scam; police and Secret Service get money back

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Mar 02, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — An Akron senior citizen is speaking out after she became the victim of an elaborate online scam.

Sylvia Newman was tricked out of $40,000 after it appeared her bank account had been compromised.

She eventually got all of the money back through an investigation by Akron Police and the Secret Service that lasted about a month.

Newman spoke to News 5 about the ordeal in an effort to warn others.

"It does make one angry and helpless," Newman said. "Losing $40,000 is a big deal. It was a hardship to lose that much money."

Akron Detective Troy Looney said the online scheme was convincing and complicated.

"This is actually one of the more elaborate (scams) because it involves the social engineering and manipulation of the victim," Looney said.

Newman said it all started in January when she received an email explaining that her cyber security software was about to be cancelled.

Coincidentally, she was planning to end her service with the software company she was using, so the timing seemed perfect.

However, the communication was not coming from a legitimate company, rather a con artist.

Newman was told they needed to access her computer remotely and she would be eligible for a $400 refund. In a decision she now regrets, Newman provided her bank routing information.

"During that process, I entered the $400 that was the refund amount but I didn't realize that they had manipulated— and I could see on the screen— it to read $40,000," she said.

A short time later, Newman was told the $40,000 supposedly deposited in her account was an overpayment and the only way she could "make it right" was wire $40,000 to a bank in Delaware.

"At that point, the individual seemed upset and made me feel responsible for the error, even though he had manipulated the number, and I was convinced because I actually saw my bank account on my computer screen showing this large deposit," she said.

Newman went to her bank the next day and the banker questioned the wire several times, but she went through with it, still thinking it was her error.

"When I returned home and told my husband all about it, he said, 'No, this is a scam.'"

Detective Looney said this type of scam seems very real because victims are seeing what looks like their actual bank accounts on the screen.

"What they were doing is potentially maybe screen sharing or they hacked the computer, so they had access and connectivity with the victim to show or manipulate a screen to be that bank or online banking of that institution," Looney said.

Looney is part of a cyber task force, and together with the Secret Service, they used subpoenas to track Newman's money to two different banks and eventually to a cloud-based security service. They were all able to get all of the money wired back to her account.

"The good thing about forensics and the digital era that we live in, everything is traceable and trackable," Looney said.

Looney said the key to cracking the case was Newman's quick reporting of the crime to Akron Police.

But the investigation isn't over. Looney and others are trying to identify who stole the money.

"It's still an active investigation," he said.

Newman said she'll be forever grateful to police and federal agents for getting the $40,000 back.

"We would like to donate something to the police department because they did such a great job," she said.

She's also offering advice to prevent other people from falling victim to a similar scam.

"They're very clever about being able to show you a screen that looks real, so don't believe your eyes. Make sure you verify."

Investigators said to avoid financial scams, do not respond to texts or emails requesting your personal information and review your privacy and security settings on social media.

Looney said if you are scammed, contact your bank and local police department right away.

"Time is of the essence," he said.

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