I was scammed out of nearly $300,000 and was forced to abandon my retirement dreams


Photo illustration of a man with money collaged.

Getty Images; Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/BI

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Leonid Shteyn. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Last year, I started looking for ways to make more money from my retirement savings. I’m 70, and my wife, who is also retired, is 68. We were worried about having enough money to live with rising inflation. We also wanted to have something to leave our four grandchildren, two of whom have special needs.

I researched investment options online and eventually reached out to a friend. He connected me to a company he was investing in. I checked the company out online, and everything seemed above board. I spoke with a professional financial planner tied to the company.

Still, I was cautious. I opened an account with just $250. Then, I transferred $10,000. When that investment began to grow, I wanted to go all in. I withdrew $100 from the account to make sure it was legit. After that withdrawal was processed, I transferred all my money: $256,470.

Things quickly became strange

After that, things started to get strange. The so-called investment company asked me to take out a line of credit. They encouraged me to invest in bitcoin and started charging me steep commissions.

One day, I got an email, reportedly from a blockchain, the digital wallet where people keep bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. When I looked closely, I noticed that one digit in the email was off—it was a scam meant to look like an official blockchain communication.

That’s when I knew something was very wrong.

I trusted the big bank that the scammers used

Still, the so-called investment company called me, asking for more money. I got my own lawyer, who looked up the company’s legal representation. He couldn’t find any licensed lawyer with the name I’d been given. Next, I hired a private investigator. He tracked one scammer to Bulgaria and another to the US.

My lawyer realized that I had sent most of my funds to an account at Bank of America. As an immigrant, I trusted Bank of America intrinsically. I never would have transferred money to a small bank or international establishment, but if you can’t trust them, who can you trust?

Unfortunately, I feel Bank of America failed me terribly. Even after my lawyer alerted them to what was happening, they cleared a check I’d written to the scammers. They ignored requests from my bank to look at the fraud, and after three requests, my bank gave up.

Within three months, I went from having a healthy retirement savings to having $20,000 in the bank. With lawyer fees and the private investigator, I was out nearly $300,000.

Older people, like myself, need help to protect themselves

This whole debacle is no one’s fault but my own. The thing is, I’m a smart guy. I ran a major business for 30 years. I am good at vetting people—or at least I thought.

What frustrates me is that the lack of government oversight allows scams like this to thrive. I contacted my local police department, and they said they’d investigate. I didn’t hear from them, so I called back. They told me they have 600 cases like this and only three investigators. When I heard that, I knew the chances of my case being solved were slim to none.

People always ask me what advice I’d give other seniors, but I think that’s the wrong question. Scammers will always exist, and people, especially older people, will always be vulnerable. We need to be able to trust the government and major institutions like Bank of America to stop this fraud. I believe they don’t because they make money in interest and fees from these fraudulent accounts.

My retirement looks a lot different now

I’ve started from scratch a lot in my life. I immigrated from the Czech Republic to New York in 1989 and later moved from New York to Texas. But it’s hard to start over at 70. I’ve been sending out my résumé and looking for work as a consultant, but I haven’t had any leads.

I’m lucky to have a house and cars that are paid off and still have some money in the bank. I’ve abandoned my dream of helping my grandkids or traveling in retirement. I’m just hoping my wife and I have enough to live on.

Editor’s note: In a statement to Business Insider, Bank of America said: “We don’t want any bank’s clients to become victims of scams. We try to work with victims and their banks to return the funds when feasible, but unfortunately, this is not always possible. We encourage clients to do thorough due diligence to ensure that they are transferring funds to legitimate businesses.

Read the original article on Business Insider



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