CHICAGO (CBS) — A North Aurora senior citizen is accused of money laundering and drug trafficking but it’s not true.
To clear her name, she needed to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new account opened for her.
You know where this is going.
Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us through the elaborate and expensive scam.
Henriette Schmuhl puts on a brave face for her grandkids, cooing, laughing, and playing with them. On the inside, she’s a ball of emotions.
“I was so afraid. I was so afraid. And lying,” said Schmuhl who described herself as a good Christian woman.
For almost two months, the 74-year-old had been disappearing for hours at a time. Her family thought she was sick and kept it a secret to go get treatment. Instead, Schmuhl was visiting different bitcoin machines to convert chunks of her life savings to the digital currency.
She showed us massive withdrawals from her retirement accounts. $150,000 here. $30,000 there. It started with an urgent phone call in May.
“‘I want to let you know there is a warrant out for your arrest.’ What?! I’ve never done anything,” said Schmuhl, recapping the initial phone call with a man she came to know as “Andrew Hall.”
Hall said he worked for Homeland Security. He provided her a badge number and a warrant case number, telling Schmuhl to call police if she didn’t believe him. But if she did call, ‘I better take my lawyer with me because I’m going to be arrested.’
The fake federal agent continued to communicate through phone calls, over the Telegram app, and by text. He told the retiree that she needed a new social security number because she was the victim of identity theft.
“‘Before we change your social security number, we’re going to have to move your money out of your accounts to protect you,'” said Schmuhl, explaining more of Hall’s excuses.
When she couldn’t convert any more of her cash to Bitcoin, Hall convinced her to use her credit cards to buy gift cards. The rationale there? That with a new social security number she might have difficulty opening credit cards because of no credit history. So, she should hit her credit limits now and she’ll get the money back later.
Schmuhl wound up spending more than $17,000 on gift cards. Anytime she protested, Hall had an answer.
“‘I’m saving you. I’m helping you out,” she said Hall told her. She thought he was her friend.
Then her buddy didn’t answer one day. His phone says it is disconnected.
Investigators from the North Aurora Police Department considered all of this information and then got the FBI involved. Cybersecurity experts traced the scammers to Malta – the island in the Mediterranean Sea- thousands of miles away from Schmuhl whose family is flabbergasted. They’ve started a GoFundMe to help her build her savings back up.
“I know how hard she’s worked her entire life and for that money just to be gone completely, it breaks my heart,” said Janelle Hutchison, Schmuhl’s daughter-in-law.
The grandma hopes her $230K-plus mistake is a warning for all generations which is why she wanted to share her story.
The Social Security Administration says callers threatening that you’ll be arrested or that you’ll lose your social security numbers are scammers. Hang up if you receive a suspicious call. Here are several other tips: