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Be Warned! How Navy Veteran Lost $92,000 to This Online Scam

A cautionary tale about the sophistication of criminals who target the vulnerable 

spinner image Scammers prey on veterans, exploiting their trust and goodwill.
Rob Dobi

Scammers prey on veterans, exploiting their trust and goodwill, often striking when they are most vulnerable.

That’s what happened to John McKendrick, 80, of West Palm Beach, Florida, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and veteran of 20 years who lost his life savings. Now, he wants to warn other veterans. 

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McKendrick was grieving the death of his wife of 46 years and preparing to go to England for her funeral when the scammer struck. He was, as he puts it, “not in a good frame of mind” when he noticed an odd charge for “Norton” on his credit card statement. 

His bank advised calling Norton Security, so he Googled the company and found a phone number. The “customer service representative” asked McKendrick to click a link that would allow him remote control of the computer to check for the Norton software.

“Against my better judgment, I allowed him to do this,” McKendrick told AARP Veteran Report. “Once on my computer, he verified that I did not have Norton Security installed. But he did report that during his inspection, he had found at least 28 active hackers on my computer.”

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At this point, McKendrick, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and a member of the class of 1966, didn’t realize there was only one hacker inside his machine: the man he was speaking to on the phone. 

According to Troy Broussard, senior adviser to the AARP Veterans and Military Families Initiative, enabling a hacker to infiltrate your computer is a turning point: “Giving any type of control to a potential scammer can lead to escalated losses. It is so easy to do. Many years ago, I experienced this myself when a scammer was about to take over my computer, but I realized it at the last moment.”

Once the scammer has control, the result can be devastating. That is exactly what happened to McKendrick next. The man said Norton was working with the FBI and other federal agencies to catch hackers and that McKendrick could help them. 

He said Norton would transfer money into McKendrick’s account each day, which would somehow trigger hacker activity that would reveal their whereabouts to authorities. 

McKendrick should then withdraw the same amounts in cash and send them back in Bitcoin via a Bitcoin machine. He had McKendrick sign in to own his bank account, and without McKendrick’s knowledge, the scammer doctored the URL to reflect a fake page showing a new deposit of $10,000.

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Over the next seven days, McKendrick went to a variety of bank branches to withdraw $92,000, usually taking out $10,000 to $15,000 each day in accordance with the phony deposit accounts shown on the fake bank account page. He often had to visit multiple branches to circumvent the $5,000 withdrawal limit. The hackers advised him that if the bank questioned him, he should say the money was for home improvement projects. 

“I thought, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but this is Norton Security that I’m talking to,” McKendrick says. “So if I’m going to get rid of the hackers on the computer, I can’t be talking to anybody better.”

Upon discovering the fraud, McKendrick immediately notified his bank, filed a police report and contacted the local news station, which broadcasted the story. He has not been able to retrieve his money, as is often the case in such situations. 

His bank is not pursuing the matter further, and he has retained a lawyer and is investigating a potential lawsuit against the finanical institution. He feels the bank should have questioned his unusual financial activity after his 55 years of withdrawing no more than $200 every six months. In one instance, the bank refused a request he made, saying it suspected possible fraud—but no one investigated further. 

“I feel that should have been a signal that all was not well concerning my persistent withdrawals,” McKendrick says. “But the bank failed to take action to protect me and my funds.” 

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He’s also angry that none of the tellers offered him a receipt that would have shown his dwindling balance in black and white. 

“If they had done that, I would have seen what was actually there,” he says. “Instead, I would get back home, and the guy would dummy up the bank statement online. And what I saw was that everything was OK.”

While McKendrick has other savings to fall back on, he says he feels “devastated” by what happened and is intent on warning others. With awareness, people can be alert to the red flags for such fraud, such as urgent requests for action, instructions to wire money or send cryptocurrency, and advice to lie to others and/or hide the situation. 

McKendrick advises that if anything seems amiss in an interaction you’re having online, simply walk away. “If you feel like you’re in a scamming situation, just hang up and do nothing,” he says. “If I had just turned my computer off, I wouldn’t have lost anything.” 

Advice on scams and how to combat them can be found at the AARP Veterans Fraud Center.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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