CA woman tricked into putting $20K in box, handing it to complete stranger

ByStephanie Sierra and Renee Koury KGO logo
Friday, March 22, 2024
Woman tricked into putting $20K in box, handing it to stranger
A Santa Rosa grandmother realized too late she'd handed $20,000 in cash to a scammer after she was told she was helping stop child porn.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A New York personal finance columnist made headlines recently when she revealed scammers tricked her into handing $50,000 cash through a car window to a man she didn't know.

Now, a nearly identical scam has struck here in the Bay Area: a Santa Rosa grandmother realized too late she'd willingly handed $20,000 in cash to a complete stranger.

"I can't. And it's haunting me," said Judy G. as she tried to make sense of what just happened. "Like this feeling of being sick at what I did, and how I did it."

She'd just handed a box full of money to a total stranger.

"I walked out to the road and handed this guy a box with $20,000 in it," she said.

Her ordeal began one morning at home on her ranch.

"I was doing my Wordle puzzle and all of a sudden it froze," she said.

A message flashed on her iPad. She'd been hacked. "Call this number," she was instructed. She did.

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"Someone had used my computer to access a pornography site and that $55,000 was spent on child porn. I said it wasn't true, it couldn't possibly be true," Judy said she was told on the phone.

A man claiming to be Apple support said he'd connect her directly to Wells Fargo Bank.

"What came up was the Wells Fargo recording you get when you call customer service," she said.

A man picked up, saying he was working with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the child porn case. He emailed her a letter as proof.

"And they kept saying, 'We don't want to scare you, but this is a very serious issue,'" Judy said.

He said Judy needed to put $20,000 into an escrow account to stop the hackers from spending her money on child porn. So Judy drove to the bank.

"After I took the money out, he's on the phone with me the whole time. 'OK, I have the money now, what do I do?'" Judy said. "And then he said he was pretty sure he could get an agent to come to my house and pick up the money."

The man told Judy not to speak with anyone; mobsters were watching. Everyone was under surveillance.

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"I did get a phone call from my daughter. I said I can't talk to you right now. I was afraid to say a word to anybody, my own daughter," she said.

The man told her she had to seal the cash in a box -- and wait.

"So I went around the house and I found an old shirt box left over from Christmas and I put it in this box and taped it. I was in an altered state almost," Judy said.

The man stayed on the phone until a courier arrived at her locked gate.

"He was dressed the way I was told he would be dressed, in the dark pants and a light-colored jacket, actually it was a hoodie. He had a COVID mask on and he wore black-rimmed glasses and he seemed very nice. I walked out to the road, he was parked there - and handed this guy a box with $20,000 in it, " Judy said.

Judy felt relief. Exhaustion. The ordeal had lasted hours.

"I went to bed that night until 5 in the morning at which point in time I woke up and realized what had happened, what I did," she said.

It was like waking from a trance.

MORE: Warning: Chances are that's not really your bank on the phone. It's likely a fake caller ID scam

"I can't explain it. It doesn't make sense that I went to the bank and took that money out and put it in this box and taped it - and I handed it over is what I did....handed $25,000 cash to a stranger...And nobody was holding a gun to my head," Judy said.

New York Magazine personal finance columnist, Charlotte Cowles, made headlines when she wrote about how she'd fallen victim last year to a nearly identical scam. This one began with a phone call claiming her identity was used to open several Amazon accounts. Scammers then persuaded her that her identity was linked to several violent crimes and she could face arrest. They persuaded her to hand a shoebox with $50,000 in cash through a car window to a total stranger.

"I wanted to tell this story because there really is no stereotypical scam victim," said Cowles. "They knew where i live, they knew the last four digits of my Social Security number, they knew about my son and it was terrifying."

Judy thought she'd never fall for a scam -- until now.

"I had no idea how your brain could be manipulated, and so quickly. You're invaded, just as if they had a gun to your head, but they don't," Judy said

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

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