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Phishing Scam Targets Shark Tank Investor

Barbara Corcoran explains how an elaborate email scheme almost cost her $400,000

Graphic illustration for Episode 61 - Phishing Scam Targets Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran

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Barbara Corcoran is known for her business acumen, and with nearly 50 years in real estate under her belt, the 70-year-old mogul is still going strong. Corcoran can be seen every week as an investor and judge on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank and remains an active player in real estate development. Armed with this knowledge, scammers employ an elaborate email phishing scheme in an attempt to steal Barbara’s money.

Quote graphic for episode 61 of The Perfect Scam

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(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:01] Michelle: This week on AARP's The Perfect Scam. Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water...

[00:00:08] It was easy as could be. And that as really shocking how easily I went down. This was a wakeup call.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:17] Michelle: It's the scam that netted a shark. Welcome back to AARP's The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Michelle Koskinski. Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran tells us everything, how she was actually reeled in and in an elaborate, extremely high stakes email phishing scam, not once, but twice. And with me on today's show is another one and only, Fraud Expert Frank Abagnale. It's great to have you on the show, Frank.

[00:00:44] Frank Abagnale: Hi, Michelle, good to be with you.

[00:00:46] Michelle: So Frank, this week's scam caught a big shark twice. Somebody's who built a business empire on cutting through the nonsense and making deals. But you know, we constantly see that scams can target anyone.

[00:01:00] Frank Abagnale: We should all be aware that there's nobody that cannot end up being victimized by it. It's like I've said many times, I know I can be scammed, I know the smartest people have been scammed, or they've been a victim of a scam.

[00:01:14] Michelle: And Frank, tell us what exactly is an email phishing scam.

[00:01:18] Frank Abagnale: Well email phishing scams are getting very sophisticated. Just a year ago you could look at an email and realize the spelling was bad, the grammar was bad. Today, a lot of them are almost perfect because what they do is,  they go to social media, and they're able to get all of the information about the individual. One of the most common emails I see today from consumer to consumer is simply an email that might say, "Good morning, Barbara. Great having lunch with you yesterday. We need to do that more often. I hope you and your husband, Randy, have a great time with the kids at Disney World this week. When you get back, give me a call. We'll have lunch again. By the way, I saw this on YouTube, thought you'd get a big kick out of it. Here's the link," signed Joan. Now, she's already told her on Facebook that she was going to lunch with her friend. She even said they had a great lunch after the lunch. Uh, she always mentioned her husband Randy's name several times on Facebook including her children's names. And of course, they've said three weeks earlier they were going to Disney World. So they're taking information from social media like Facebook, and in real time using that very current, very exact timely information to make it more convincing to the person on the other end... well it must be them. I just had lunch with her yesterday. So they don't even second guess that it might be a phishing email. So they're a lot more sophisticated and a lot more accurate today than they were just 12 months ago.

[00:02:41] Michelle: That is incredible. Thanks so much, Frank.

[00:02:44] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:02:47] Michelle: So now to our latest eye-opening scam, and this one, or part of it, made headlines around the world very recently. Well now we're about to make some more, because it turns out, not only was the target someone who is very well-known...

(Shark Tank theme)

[00:03:04] (show clip) "I'd like to put an offer on the table. $50,000 exactly as you stated for 25%."

[00:03:12] Michelle: Yes, that is the show, Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran. But now she tells us she was actually scammed twice, each time hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake, and she's now certain the same fraudsters were behind both, and that this latest attempt in February that grabbed nearly $400,000 of Barbara's money was part two of an incredibly elaborate, time-consuming, months' long shakedown that started nearly a year ago and came very close to successfully stealing another 200 grand. So, Barbara is a hard charging, razor-sharp New York investor in real estate and small businesses, a now world-famous television personality. By any definition, a shark.

[00:03:58] (show clip) Barbara Corcoran: I'm going to give you the $200,000 which you asked for, but I want 30%.

[00:04:05] (show clip) Take it.

[00:04:07] Michelle: Normally there she is, cutting right through the smoke and mirrors, a self-made mogul.

[00:04:12] Barbara Corcoran: What I did for a career was I built a real estate brokerage firm in New York City called The Corcoran Group. I sold that about gosh, 15 years ago. And then I became a TV personality in the real estate space and, more recently, in the last 11 years I've been a shark investor on Shark Tank.

[00:04:31] Michelle: What's something that most people don't know about you?

[00:04:34] Barbara Corcoran: Not a thing.

[00:04:35] Michelle: (laugh)

[00:04:35] Barbara Corcoran: Honest to God, there's not a thing. I don’t think I have a secret in the world, and I, I wish I could think of something good to tell you on that one.

[00:04:42] Michelle: It's all...

[00:04:43] Barbara Corcoran: I really don't have anything.

[00:04:44] Michelle: It's all out there on Tik Tok.

[00:04:45] Barbara Corcoran: You betcha.

[00:04:47] Michelle: So, what made headlines, of course, was this crazy scam, and it made big headlines because it's you.

[00:04:54] Barbara Corcoran: Why was that so different, though? I thought it was the amount of money that got the headline.

[00:04:58] Michelle: Well, that too, that too, and I think that a lot of people think scams only happen to mom and pop sitting at home, but obviously someone who has some money is going to be just as big a target, right?

[00:05:10] Barbara Corcoran: Oh, I would think the larger target, but you would have hoped that it would be more difficult to penetrate. But it was easy as could be, and that was really shocking how easily I went down.

[00:05:21] Michelle: Easy, Barbara says, because of how slick these scammers were. It was like any other packed business day in New York for her and her team. The usual buzz of activity, meetings, calls, scheduling, and emails. Barbara definitely works and talks at a New York pace. Her accountant gets an email from Barbara's assistant, or so it appears to be. The email asks the accountant to approve some renovations to apartments Barbara bought in Germany. The bill, $388,000.

[00:05:52] Barbara Corcoran: It raised no eyebrows on the accounting side, because my assistant approves all those invoices. And because there was no reason to be suspicious, my accountant assumed it was correct.

[00:06:04] Michelle: And there was nothing weird about the email, no clues or, you know...

[00:06:09] Barbara Corcoran: Corcoran: No. It was even worded in the same style of language of how my assistant would speak. So it wasn't stilted in any way or used words that she normally wouldn't use. It sounded perfectly plausible; short, to the point, just wire the money.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:06:24] Michelle: All by the book procedure for Barbara's team. So her accountant, viewing what she saw as approval from Barbara's assistant just followed the instructions and wired the payment to a bank in Germany; all so normal that no one else would have known about the transfer at the time. All that money gone in an instant, but by sheer luck on this day after making the payment, Barbara's accountant then emailed her assistant.

[00:06:50] Barbara Corcoran: My accountant, copied my assistant saying, "Okay, the money's been sent," and her response was, "What money? For what?"

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:06:59] Michelle: Not only were there no renovations, there were no apartments in Germany, at least not those mentioned in this original email. That's where the shock immediately sets in. This was all somehow a scam, and the money had been sent, poof, electronically. But it had just happened, so Barbara's assistant jumps into action. She tells Barbara; Barbara calls her bank hoping to slam the brakes on that wire transfer. Minutes are of the essence here.

[00:07:28] Barbara Corcoran: The bank got right on it fortunately, and they put pressure on the German bank of, who wanted to pass the money through.

[00:07:34] Michelle: But the wire has gone through, nearly $400,000 emptied out of Barbara's account. And then she finds out the German bank was only a way station for the cash. The way the scammers had set this all up, it was ultimately bound for China. Luckily for Barbara, her American bank convinced the German bank to put a hold on moving that money any further. They, too, realized this big payment had all been built of BS. That email from Barbara's assistant to her accountant was a fake. The scammer merely changed one single letter in the assistant's email address, so that her accountant wouldn't even notice and wouldn't ever second guess that it was coming from her.

[00:08:16] Michelle: And this person clearly knew what they were doing.

[00:08:18] Barbara Corcoran: Oh, they not only what they were doing, but they knew the pecking order that was in the firm. They knew how bills were approved and who billed what, and what the uh sequencing was, or they could not have pulled that off, because we have other people working at the company. They knew exactly who did what. And they chose those two players. It was buttoned up. I would say buttoned up, yeah.

[00:08:38] Michelle: Does that bother you that first of all, they know how things flow in your company, they also had the, the email of your assistant?

[00:08:46] Barbara Corcoran: Well, yes. Because I guess anyone could have access to that. What, of course, was different about the email, the fake email that we were getting was it was just one digit left out of the email address, a "r" I think was missing or something. And because you get so accustomed to seeing your own email addresses, no one checks the email as it's coming in. Oh, is that the same as it was two minutes ago? And so, it's a very easy slip of the hand, so to speak.

[00:09:14] Michelle: So this could even happen to a shark.

[00:09:18] Barbara Corcoran: Yes, nothing raised a brow.

[00:09:20] Michelle: Barbara was one of the lucky ones. That money, and a lot of it caught in the nick of time. In the end, she got it all back even though it took a little trip to Europe there. The scammers ingenious plan though to first move it through Germany to lower people's suspicions before then transferring it to China is what ended up foiling their plot in the end. That is, after Barbara's accountant ended up copying her real assistant just at the last second. As if Barbara's money had its own scam-fighting guardian angel watching over it.

[00:09:52] Barbara Corcoran: Remember, people who don't have different people in departments working with each other don't copy each other. What saved us here was my accountant, as a matter of habit, copied my assistant. Now, if, if it was a one-step process, that money would have been gone and she might ask me three months from now, "So how are those apartments coming?" "What apartments?" We would have found out much later. There was no other way to catch it, except that she copied my assistant at the real address. If she had pasted it in, if she had just even done a reply back to my assistant, it would have gone, which it would have certainly gone to the fake assistant out there in cyberspace, but she put the email address in and copied her, and that's what saved it.

[00:10:34] Michelle: Yet you must be wondering, as we were, how did these sophisticated scammers know Barbara's assistant's email address, and more importantly, how did they know the exact process of how expenditures are approved inside Barbara's company? How on earth would they know just how those emails from assistant to accountant are normally worded and set up? How did they manage to sound just like Barbara's assistant in that email? The answer sadly is another scam, this one even more outlandish and involved. It takes us back to last summer, and this one, too, started with another email sent to Barbara's busy team.

[00:11:13] Barbara Corcoran: Which was an offering to do a speech overseas for an inordinate amount of money, much more than I was typically paid, like a double fee, if I would fly myself there. And they offered to take my whole family plus my staff and put us up for first class lodging, give us a car and a driver. It was so amazing, we all celebrated at work. Yay! We're going! We're going on this boondoggle.

[00:11:35] Michelle: That's incredible.

[00:11:36] Barbara Corcoran: And all I have to do is a speech.

[00:11:38] Michelle: This email, how it all started was from a member of the royal staff for the ruler of Dubai. This trip would entail an enormous appearance fee for Barbara, all expenses paid, and then some. Her whole entourage, and then some.

[00:11:53] Barbara Corcoran: It looked and smelled just like any of the speech offerings, except it double-paid. And I guess uh that fits into the category of, if it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true, right? And they had a female orphanage in place and a women's cause in place, all the bells and whistles that made it sound like something you really wanted to be a part of.

[00:12:12] Michelle: This is crazy.

[00:12:12] Barbara Corcoran: Oh, this was nutsy. I, everybody was so excited.

[00:12:16] Michelle: The catch was in that cause Barbara mentioned, the orphanage for girls. Barbara would give a speech; the ruler of Dubai would pay her handsomely...

[00:12:25] Barbara Corcoran: But what they wanted me to do is donate $200,000 to the All-Female Orphanage that they were opening, and I was going to cut the ribbon. So I'm like, oh, that's cool. But I had no interest in donating $200,000, but they said the king was going to donate it, and I just had to reimburse the king, because he wanted to make the donation publicly in my name while I cut the ribbon, and that kind of thing. It all sounded like...

[00:12:47] Michelle: Yeah, like they, they tried to prey on everything you might be interested in.

[00:12:52] Barbara Corcoran: Of course.

[00:12:53] Michelle: A great trip, a female orphanage, you're going to be rubbing elbows with the king, like they knew what to go after for somebody who already, you know, has a great life and here's a little something extra.

[00:13:06] Barbara Corcoran: Exactly.

[00:13:07] Michelle: Then they brought up this bit about her making this big donation to the orphanage. It would be, they said, in Barbara's name, but she wouldn't really have to pay it. They told Barbara's team the ruler of Dubai would first wire the $200,000 to Barbara's account so that when she then gave him his money right back, it would just look like she had made the donation, all for appearances. Which didn't really sound so strange at the time, plus Barbara and her team thought maybe this was the way they operate for an appearance like this.

[00:13:38] Barbara Corcoran: The scam of it was very simply that last piece about the donation. So they wired the king's money into my account, and they sent me the confirmation and asked me to immediately wire the $200,000 back. It was an exchange. However, a confirmation that the money was wired is not the same thing as the money in the bank.

[00:13:59] Michelle: How right you are.

[00:14:00] Michelle: At this point in the game, Barbara wishes she'd been more like her show personality.

[00:14:04] (show clip) "too like her, too slick. Every answer. And my gut is ringing, there's got to be something wrong. You're too slick for me. I don't trust you, so I'm out."

[00:14:17] Michelle: But in real life when there's no lights, camera, action directing you, when you really want to do something exciting and new, it's a little harder to see all sides, isn't it? This trip was all planned. They were ready to get on the plane and enjoy being wined and dined by royalty, and it was once again Barbara's accountant who started to feel some misgivings about this big fancy trip to Dubai. However unpopular those misgivings must have been among the group, she was supposed to wire $200,000 to pay back the sheik, but was the sheik's money really in Barbara's account first according to the plan?

[00:14:56] Barbara Corcoran: And right before my same bookkeeper, same accountant, was all set to wire it when she just had a bad feeling and told the bank to pause. And in that pause, they asked for the money and asked for the money, and then in the next hour we realized it never hit our account.

[00:15:11] Michelle: Is this the world's greatest accountant or what?

[00:15:13] Barbara Corcoran: So it was that hesitation that saved that $200,000.

[00:15:17] Michelle: Just to finish that piece, why were they going to wire money to your account from the king first, and then you were going to...

[00:15:25] Barbara Corcoran: Because they wanted to know that I wasn't really donating the $200,000. The king was making the donation in my name.

[00:15:32] Michelle: Got it.

[00:15:32] Barbara Corcoran: To do that, I would have to put my $200,000 through, which I had no objection to, sure. For a good cause, it's not my money. If he wants to make it in my name in a ceremonial type way, that's fine.

[00:15:44] Michelle: Well, you must have been stunned by this.

[00:15:46] Barbara Corcoran: Your immediate reaction is what? You know that shock, and then before the what even comes out of your mouth, pieces start falling into place. I think it's probably like when your husband's having an affair. You're like, I can't believe that he's had an affair. And then immediately in the suspicious mind of the wife, she thinks of five things right away that never made sense in the last six months. Right? That's how it happens. So when we were shocked, like what!?! Pieces started falling in place. You know right, right away and you're, that never sounded right. Why, and a couple of pieces that came immediately to my mind was a, a last minute request, even though they were flying 8 of us, 6 or 8 of us over there, first class accommodations, and when we asked if our makeup guy could come too for the ride, you know, we want another room. What the heck, these people have money to burn, and they said, "Sure, no problem." And that's the first thing that came to my mind. I thought, they were pretty easy on that extra first class airfare. The extra room for 8 days. The extra, extra you know.

[00:16:46] Michelle: That's just how you roll, Barbara.

[00:16:47] Barbara Corcoran: It was just too easy. It was all too easy, really, when you think about it. It was too good to be true is what I say once more.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:16:54] Michelle: After this trip, all fell apart at the last minute, and they realized it was a scam. After so much preparation and time and work on the minute details of this, she had her tech investigations' team trace the scammer's emails, and sure enough, they weren't coming from Dubai at all, but Asia. Then fast-forward to February, after the second scam about the German apartment refurbishing, guess what, that email also traced back to the same group. It was all the same people, both times, and from all that meticulous fake Dubai trip planning, the extensive emailing to and from Barbara's team, that's how the scammers figured out how her inner circle works and communicates, even with one another. Even though the first Dubai plot was foiled at the 11th hour, they simply reset their trap, and the second one came even closer to working.

[00:17:52] Michelle: You've been lucky twice, really lucky.

[00:17:55] Barbara Corcoran: Or almost unlucky.

[00:17:58] Michelle: Well...

[00:17:58] Barbara Corcoran: I spent a lot of time and energy...

[00:18:00] Michelle: True.

[00:18:01] Barbara Corcoran: Actually the first one went on for months with the details of the trip and what points do you want me to make in my presentation, and what's exactly the sequencing of the events that I'm expected at, and what clothing should I wear? I mean they sounded exactly like any other professional speaking bureau in giving details and agendas, and so there was a lot of time spent and wasted on it with my office staff, but meanwhile, we're smiling through all the inconvenience, 'cause we knew we were going over there and having this fabulous trip, a once in a lifetime. (laugh)

[00:18:35] Michelle: And how do you feel after, after this happens twice?

[00:18:38] Barbara Corcoran: I just feel lucky we didn't lose the monies. And we lost time, but they weren't successful in this scam. Does it make you feel more vulnerable? Of course.

[00:18:46] Michelle: And someone like Barbara is a target for these things. Where there's money, there are going to be criminals sniffing around. She knew that before, but didn't necessarily feel it till this scam packed past year she's had.

[00:19:02] Barbara Corcoran: It's really, does she have the money? How do we get it out of her? That's what a target's all about.

[00:19:07] Michelle: Everything worked out well the way you guys run things and the process, but do you feel like you need to do something to protect yourself further from something else?

[00:19:17] Barbara Corcoran: Oh, yes. Well we've done a lot. I mean, this is a wakeup call. We made a lot of security changes in our office regarding the server we use. We have changed how frequently we; we change our passwords. We've never done that before, you know, I don't know, my password is probably what it was when I was born, maybe.

[00:19:36] Michelle: Rest assured, it's not just you that forgets or puts off doing these things. Even famous business moguls can run into these traps with passwords that really do let your guard down.

[00:19:48] Barbara Corcoran: We don't change anything, I guess, and now we have a regular system of changing them all the time. It's a pain in the neck, at work, but it's the benefit of doing it will hopefully protect some coverage for us. Um, very important, which is a simple change, is we have a two-step authentication, something like that, which is that it's got to, each email address it's, it's checked before anything goes out like that. And very importantly, or so simply put in place is now I, I establish within a minute of the company, I said, all right, from now on, any bill paying, you have to pick up the phone and confirm it with the person by voice, because if, if that had simply been in place, my accountant would have called, uh my assistant, and said, "Okay, I, I got the, I got your bill. Just confirming it's true," and done. They would have been found out immediately from the very first email. So that's in place now, a, a phone confirmation. So important and so easy to do.

[00:20:44] Michelle: It's as if her accountant has some kind of spidey sense for scams. She just keeps saving the day.

[00:20:49] Michelle: You must have been like, again?

[00:20:52] Barbara Corcoran: You know what, when I found out it went on with this last go around, I had no reason to believe it was related to the first. Uh, by the time we found out it was related to the first scam, it was a few days later, after we had the money safely in hand, because we had our technology people tracing things down, hoping we could catch the thief, by the way. But they closed up shop right away. Boom-boom, like you almost imagine them, that they never really existed. You know, they close up so fast. So it wasn't until many days later we realized they were related. But it did bug me. I'm thinking, how did they know our pecking order here? How did they know who to go to for what? So I knew they had to be within our system, like any legitimate inquiry or bill paying we do. And that made me concerned that maybe it was a scam by someone else we were doing business with, but it was the technology people that said, no, it was that Asian address once more that came in with the scam.

[00:21:48] Michelle: Does any part of this keep you up at night, Barbara?

[00:21:51] Barbara Corcoran: No, I'm not a worrier. No, even when I found out the day that the money was had, I mean it was painful, like a kick in my gut, and remember, we thought we lost it. It was already wired. Okay, I didn't know it had been wired to the German bank. I didn't know that the bank uh was dealing with it. And it was like a kick in the gut. But then, you know, I reminded myself immediately, I guess it's a self-preservation; in the end it's not my kid, it's not my leg that fell off, it's not the world ended, and you know, that really, I just, all right, that's it.

[00:22:21] Michelle: Yeah, I think people were probably cheering for you.

[00:22:24] Michelle: Barbara knows she was lucky twice to not lose her money, at least not permanently. But now her heart goes out even more to all the people out there who don't ever get it back, many of whom lose their life savings, billions of dollars lost to scams every single year.

[00:22:41] Barbara Corcoran: I was thinking in the absence of having a big bank watching your butt, which I had, okay, in the absence of being to call up the big bank that's bigger than the little bank in Germany, uh people wouldn't have had that option. So it really is an uneven playing field in the scam business. The bigger you are, uh, I think, or the more money you have, the more likely you are to resolve things. And I was thinking, if this had been my mother or father when they were alive, if it had been their $1000 vs. uh, you know, close to half a million dollars, and that they were losing, that would have been very meaningful to them, and I've got to believe it happens all the time. Well you would know, that's your field, right?

[00:23:20] Michelle: It does.

[00:23:21] Barbara Corcoran: It's so unfair. It's so unfair, and it was almost unfair that I got it back to some degree, as weird as that sounds, simply because I had access to people who could help me out.

[00:23:31] Michelle: If only Barbara had told the scammers...

[00:23:33] (show clip) "I wouldn't put my money there, I'm out, I'm out. I am so out on this. I'm out."

[00:23:38] Michelle: We now know that Dubai royal speech scam had targeted multiple other celebrities around the same time, including Dog the Bounty Hunter who had signed a contract and everything but started to get cold feet and realized what was happening when he, too, was asked to make a large donation to a charity. For Barbara, as a result of her creepy experiences with these swindlers and her great last minute saves, she has some sound advice for everyone.

[00:24:05] Barbara Corcoran: Well, I think the two things, you know, the first scam the lesson I learned in that one is if it's good, too good to be true. Okay, that's such a cliché, but I had to learn it that way, okay. I mean if you’re going to be overpaid on anything, chances are it's a scam. Okay, that's what I learned on the first one. This last one, uh I learned a very different lesson, and that is, uh have a double-check system. Invent it somehow. I would ask, you know, my son or daughter, what do you think about this? It does--, just check with somebody, you know, and for me, I think the most important piece of what's been put in place right now, more than what we've paid for for the security checks and the passwords and all that fancy stuff, what I trust personally more is that somebody's got to pick up the phone. So if somebody's asking you for money, I think uh if we had even called the construction company in Germany, something, nobody would have answered, "Whoa, hold on." You know what else I've learned, sorry, I'm all over the board.

[00:25:04] Michelle: No, I love it.

[00:25:05] Barbara Corcoran: Okay, the first one, you know what I learned, I learned anything that's done purely by email, should be suspect. Because with all the emails that went back and forth; contract reviews, dealing with your attorney on that first big speech trip deal, it was always by email.

[00:25:22] Michelle: Wait, there were no phone calls?

[00:25:23] Barbara Corcoran: No phone calls,

[00:25:24] Michelle: Okay.

[00:25:24] Barbara Corcoran: No, no phone calls, no way to talk through anything. You always were emailing. Which seemed plausible, 'cause overseas, it sounds so far away, you know, so emails seem to make sense. But anything done by pure email is more apt to be a scam, I think. Now, in this one here, Germany's a little closer, okay, but again, it was overseas, so we were very happy to communicate through email, and that's a false impression. We could have called Germany. We could have called a construction company to confirm, so I think picking up the phone is what I learned.

[00:25:58] Michelle: As they say, on her show...

[00:26:00] (show clip) "Okay, that's enough. It's time to make a decision. What are you going to do? (music segue)... We want to go with Barbara."

[00:26:16] Michelle: Some very good lessons learned here, and I think what's extraordinary, what stays with you is like Barbara said, even when you're a very well-known personality, even a savvy business shark, even when you have a huge company with multiple checks and balances, you can still be targeted by scammers even more than once. So let's talk to our Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale about this. Frank, what are your takeaways after hearing her story, and were you surprised to hear that she, and she's so great to talk to, isn't she? She was just so honest about all this. She had been that close to losing what would have totaled more than half a million dollars.

[00:26:55] Frank Abagnale: Yeah, I think it was great that she came forward and said that. Most people would maybe feel embarrassed or don't want anybody to know, but she was great in that she gave that information out immediately what happened to her, because she didn't want it to happen to somebody else. And that's very important is that we should always pass these things on and not hide that information because when you hide it, you're just letting the criminal get away with it and go on and do it to somebody else.

[00:27:20] Michelle: I thought it was incredible that you had to wonder, well how were they so convincing with these internal business emails, only to find that it was a first scam where they had learned about how everybody communicates and then they were able to very nearly successfully do this second scam, so it really was an ingenious set up.

[00:27:43] Frank Abagnale: Yes.

[00:27:43] Michelle: It was like a double-whammy. I, I didn't get you the first time, but now I know all about how you all communicate, now I'm going to try to it a second time with the stakes being hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[00:27:54] Frank Abagnale: All of those things they just watch until they get a good idea of what's going on internally in the system and how they communicate with the, the bank or another company or their other individual, and then they're able to understand how to send that phishing email and make it look so realistic and that it's actually from that individual.

[00:28:12] Michelle: And let's say you have a, a very successful company. If they are inside of your computer system and watching you, would you have any indication of that? Would anything pop up to warn you potentially?

[00:28:27] Frank Abagnale: Uh, not necessarily. There are some softwares that do that and that's why companies, it's very important that they run, their IT departments run constant checks to make sure there isn't any outside hacker. You know, in the case of Equifax, the hacker was in the system for several months just deciding what information to steal, and Equifax had no idea they were in their system, but they weren’t updating their system, they weren't installing the security patches, so consequently they weren't aware that that person was actually inside their system watching everything, and then when they made up their mind what they were going to steal, they ended up stealing 148 million credit files. So smart companies are very proactive. They're aware of this, they're constantly monitoring for it, they're constantly watching for it. They're using the proper technology to keep it out. We have great technology, but if you don't use it, it's worthless, and a lot of companies unfortunately believe, just like a lot of individuals, this can never happen to me, it won't happen to me, I don't want to spend the money. There's a lot of excuses why not to protect yourself or your business, but if you don't do it, you might end up being victimized by someone.

[00:29:37] Michelle: And remember, any company or organization, large or small, can be a target. And of course, these scams don't just abuse businesses. According to the FBI they also involve romance and work at home scams to recruit unwitting money mules, manipulating these victims into opening bank accounts to hide or launder fraud proceeds. So like Barbara said, if it seems too good to be true, it very well could be too good to be true. Engage your inner skeptic, especially during these challenging times now when we're all anxious about coronavirus. Scammers know that our heightened emotional state works in their favor. Frank, it's been great talking to you.

[00:30:19] Frank Abagnale: Thank you.

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[00:30:22] Michelle: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline, at 877-908-3360. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Michelle Kosinski.

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AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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