BAYONNE, NJ -A former Bayonne Fire Department battalion fire chief, and Vietnam Veteran, learned a hard lesson about internet scammers after being taken for his life savings. John M Malecky said he lost more than $104,000 to scammers after mistakenly responding to a very realistic email from what he thought was Amazon.
In late June, Malecky said, he received an email from what he thought was the online retail giant about the purchase of a television and a protection plan for someone in Delaware. The email said that if this was not something he ordered, he should call, which he did.
The woman on the other end of the phone told him hackers had gotten a hold of his financial information and directed him to go to local stores to purchase Amazon cards in order to somehow track down the culprits.
“I wasn’t familiar with this and she wanted me to come back with the cards and send the code,” he said. Amazon and some other gift cards have a scratch off on the back – like those of lottery tickets – that reveal a code that can be sent usually via cellular phone photo to someone.
Most stores require you to sign a waiver when purchasing gift cards, alerting purchasers to the potential for a scam. These cards are bread and butter of scammers according to some experts.
Malecky didn’t follow the woman’s instructions at first. But five days later, he would receive another message saying someone was shipping an iPhone to a location in Texas.
“It was the same thing,” he said. “When I called the number a man there asked me why I hadn’t followed the woman’s instructions. I was tired and confused.” The man kept him on the phone as he went from store to store purchasing these cards and then sending the codes.
“I was told I would be reimbursed for all of these once they caught the hackers,” he said. “I was doing this, they said, to combat the hackers.” He went to more than 20 different stores, including Walmart, Rite aid, CVS, Best Buy and Family Dollar.
He used his credit cards for the first $7,700 until the card companies got suspicious and started to question the purchases. “I was fully convinced I was dealing with Amazon,” he said. At that point, he made an even more dreadful mistake and gave the hackers access to his bank accounts. “In one day, I spent more than $14,000,” he said.
The hackers even told him they had to fix his IP address on his computer and gained access. He later learned they had installed two spyware programs. “Every time I reached a goal, they would send me an invoice, only the case was never closed. They always found some new activities and said they needed to hire a server to deal with that.”
This included suspicious activity in on-line games or some woman using PayPal.
At one point, the hackers offered to set up a firewall to protect his computer, at a cost they said of $50,000 to $100,000. This went on for about two weeks. He called his bank who informed him that it might be a scam.
Malecky eventually called LifeLock – an identity protection program, who said it could be a scam, and gave him a case number. “They said they would call back in a couple of days,” he said. “They didn’t call back.”
The bank told him to go to the police. The police recommended that he go to a computer specialist, who then found the spyware.
Despite blocking their numbers on his cell and home phones, Malecky conituned getting the calls from different phone numbers. He blocked activity to his bank accounts and his credit cards, although this sometimes took as much as an hour per account.
“It took me 45 minutes to reach someone at EZ pass,” he said.
He consulted an attorney who said he couldn’t sue anybody but told him to get to the FBI. The FBI directed him to another agency, but that turned out to be another dead end. He has since gotten in touch with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s cyber security officer.
Friends have helped him start up a Go Fund Me page to help him recover some of his lost savings.
“I sent emails to my entire list on Friday,” he said. “Some of the people thought it was a hoax. So, I had to send the emails out again saying it was not a hoax.”
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