'He knew what he was doing': San Francisco man loses half his savings in bank transfer scam

"I felt like, boy, how could I have been taken like that? Here I was being told I was defrauded, by a man who was defrauding me."
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As we've reported, hackers have been stealing unemployment benefits off thousands of EDD debit cards during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, scammers are using the "fear" of that fraud to lure their victims. It cost one man half his life savings.

We've heard from viewers saying they received calls or text messages claiming to be their bank -- warning about fraud on their accounts. But often it's not the bank, it's a scam, and it cost this man a bundle.

David Barnett thought it was a real Bank of America employee calling to warn him. "The Bank of America identification came up on my phone," he explained.

Someone was hacking into his account at that very moment.

RELATED: Bay Area residents see credit card limits cut and accounts closed during COVID-19 pandemic

"He said there was somebody in Georgia who was trying to make a withdrawal from my account into his account for a large sum of money," he said.

The man said Barnett had better act fast to stop the withdrawal. It sounded so real.

"In this day and age it would be totally understandable. There's fraud and it's rampant. My thought was my money is going away, I'd better act quickly," said Barnett.

The man told him the best way to safeguard his money was to move it temporarily to another bank.

"He walked me through the process, which I thought was very nice. He sounded like he knew what he was doing. And he did," said Barnett.

The man told him to use the Zelle payment app to transfer his money to Chase Bank.

VIDEO: EDD to issue 'conditional payments' to clear backlog, but critics remain skeptical
EMBED More News Videos

The EDD says it will start sending "conditional payments" to eligible workers whose benefits are stuck as "pending." But how soon will they get paid?



"And as I was doing it, there was a little voice that said, 'This seems very unorthodox to me, why would I be transferring money into another account?' But I suspended my disbelief, and I made the transfer," said Barnett.

As soon as the app whisked his money away, the awful realization sank in.

He'd been duped.

"I felt like, boy, how could I have been taken like that? Here I was being told I was defrauded, by a man who was defrauding me. In the guise of helping me. He was defrauding me," he said.

Barnett contacted Bank of America, but it was too late to stop his money from landing in the imposter's account.

"Unfortunately it was a large sum of money, about half the amount I had. Yes, I kissed the money goodbye," he said.

Bank of America tells 7 On Your Side money transfers happen instantly. The bank can try to stop them but, "there is no guarantee because the scammer takes the money as soon as it's sent."

However, within days, Barnett got a call from Bank of America, and a letter granting him a full refund.

"I was pretty amazed. I got my money back and I'm very grateful for that," he said.

Bank of America did not disclose whether it was able to retrieve the money or catch the imposter at the other end. Remember, scammers can use a phony caller ID, as they did in Barnett's case. A bank would never call and ask you to move money like that. If it happens to you, hang up and call your bank directly.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE!

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.