CHEVY CHASE, Md. – Marjorie Bloom, a 77-year-old retired federal attorney, lost her entire life savings of $661,000 in an elaborate tech support scam that involved cryptocurrency, according to a recent CNBC report. The devastating scam has left Bloom, who dedicated over four decades to government service, financially and emotionally devastated.
The Scam Unfolds
The scam apparently began in spring 2021 when Bloom received a fake Microsoft pop-up on her computer warning of a security issue. When she called the number listed on the pop-up, she was connected to a scammer posing as a Microsoft engineer. This scammer transferred Bloom to another fraudster claiming to be an investigator with PNC Bank, where Bloom had banked for years.
This supposed PNC Bank investigator convinced Bloom that her bank account had suspicious pending transactions of $29,000 and that she needed to move her money immediately to protect it. Claiming criminals had likely stolen her personal information, the scammer warned Bloom not to discuss the matter with anyone, including her own family.
Over the course of several weeks, the scammer instructed Bloom to liquidate her assets and wire the funds to an account under his control. Bloom proceeded to empty her savings, stocks, and an annuity per his directives, transferring a total of $661,000.
Cryptocurrency Allows Scammers to Vanish
According to CNBC, once the money reached the scammer’s account, it was quickly moved to a cryptocurrency account on Coinbase opened using Bloom’s personal details. The funds were then converted into cryptocurrency and transferred to offshore accounts on Binance, leaving no trace behind.
The use of cryptocurrency has become increasingly common in elder fraud cases, as it allows scammers to rapidly move funds without detection. The pseudonymous nature of crypto wallets makes tracking and recovering stolen funds extremely difficult.
No Oversight From Bank
Bloom later learned that no fraud investigator by the name she was given actually worked at PNC Bank. She accused PNC of ignoring red flags and failing to protect her from financial exploitation in a lawsuit filed in May 2022.
A federal judge dismissed the negligence claim but allowed a breach of contract claim against the bank to proceed. The lawsuit was settled privately in September 2022.
Elderly Often Targeted
According to the FBI, tech support scams have been ramping up against older adults. In 2022 alone, losses among seniors due to tech support fraud rose to $588 million. The scams often start with a criminal posing as a computer technician from a well-known company.
The fraudster convinces the victim that their computer has a virus or other issue that requires immediate action. They then provide instructions allowing them to remotely access the computer and steal funds.
These scammers frequently employ a psychological tactic known as “amygdala hijack” to overwhelm rational thought and trigger an emotional reaction. This method is highly effective on seniors, like Bloom, who grew up trusting authority figures.
The scammer warns the victim of dire consequences from a supposed imminent threat, causing fear and panic that prevent critical thinking.
Impact of the Scam
For Bloom, a 77-year-old widow who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the financial and emotional impacts have been devastating. The $661,000 lost represented her entire life savings, painstakingly built up over decades through her work as a federal government attorney.
Bloom served honorably at both the Department of Energy and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation over a 42-year legal career. Yet, despite her sharp legal mind, she fell victim to a meticulously crafted scam that left her penniless.
Her daughter, Ester Bloom, is the deputy managing editor for Make It at CNBC and likely could have prevented the scam had she been consulted. Tragically, the scammer convinced Bloom not to discuss the supposed security threat with anyone, including her three children.
Rising Threat to Seniors
With increasingly sophisticated scams targeting the elderly specifically, vigilance against fraud has never been more critical to protecting our aging population. The FBI urges families to warn senior relatives about schemes like the one endured by Marjorie Bloom.
Tech support scams, romance scams, government imposter scams and more claim billions of dollars from seniors annually. As the senior population balloons in the coming decades, mitigating this threat will only grow in importance.
Anyone with an elderly relative should take time to discuss fraud prevention and confirm their financial advisor or bank would never request personal information over the phone unexpectedly.
With cryptocurrency expanding the possibilities for scammers to operate anonymously online, regulators will also need to analyze how best to protect the community while still fostering financial innovation.
In the meantime, spreading awareness about the psychological tricks scammers use is key to equipping people of all ages to identify and shut down these criminal operations.