Tony, Denise & I found ourselves in a client’s apartment one Thursday morning. We were all poring over bank statements and check records.
“You withdrew $5,000 several times this month from your checking account”, Tony pointed out. “Do you remember what the money was for?”
She said she didn’t remember but must have bought something.
“There is a wire of $20,000 out of your bank account to this name here,” Tony said, gesturing to the statement. “Does this name sound familiar to you?”
The client said she had never heard that name before.
I handed another statement to Tony, who looked at it and then back at the client with increasing concern. “In this month alone, you withdrew more than $100,000. Do you have any idea where that money went?”
The client said she didn’t remember.
We all knew something was wrong. Tony thought for a moment, and said, “I think the best thing to do would be to get someone down here from the bank and just go through these transactions one by one. We don’t feel comfortable transferring your money from Schwab into your bank account until we know it’s safe.”
The client had been with our firm for almost ten years. She called Denise regularly and grew to trust Tony and the team as her advisors. She paused for a brief moment, and a look passed her eye that told me we were about to find out what’s been happening. Finally, she said, “I can’t lie to you anymore.”
The client told us the first call came late last year from a man saying he had gained access to her checking account. She sent him money as a sort of blackmail payment. Then another call came, this time from a second man claiming to work with the FBI. He was going to help her but needed funds to start his investigation. Sometimes she would wire funds directly, other times, she would buy gift cards and read him the redemption codes over the phone.
She didn’t want to tell us the truth out of embarrassment, but also out of fear that there would be some sort of retribution. Sadly, she also didn’t want to tell us because she still wanted to believe that the second man was indeed trying to help her.
From our best estimate, our client was out a couple hundred-thousand dollars from her bank account over the course of 6 months.
Before you think this will never happen to you, or to your loved ones, consider the words of the FBI agent we spoke with shortly after leaving our client’s home that morning. “We see this all the time.” While you are less likely to fall victim to a scam like this when surrounded by your spouse, children, and grandchildren, consider that your circumstances may change as you age. It’s a fact of life that many elderly clients find themselves increasingly isolated later in life, as children relocate (or are consumed by their busy lives) and spouses pass away. It can happen to anyone.
So how did we come to find ourselves in our client’s apartment that day, unraveling a fairly sophisticated scamming operation? It’s something others preach, but we practice. Know your client.
When our client called asking for a large sum of money from her Schwab account, Denise’s alarm bells went off immediately. The client had never made a request like that before. When Denise asked the client why she needed the funds, the client’s story kept changing.
Denise could have just sent the funds and gone about the rest of her day. But she didn’t. I know this client, and something isn’t right. Denise immediately sent an email to the team and within an hour we were all on a call together.
In the apartment that day, Tony could have asked a few simple questions and moved on with his life. But he didn’t. Something is wrong here, and I need to stay until I find out what’s going on.
Wealth management is about more than chasing higher returns. Consider the intangibles of a long term relationship. An advisor that knows you, and your spouse. It’s an insurance policy for you and your spouse like no other. And it’s something the Ogorek team takes very seriously.
PLEASE SEE IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION HERE.