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Elderly woman scammed out of $230,000 by being told she was being accused of crimes she didn't commit

North Aurora woman scammed out of $230K accused of crimes she didn't commit
North Aurora woman scammed out of $230K accused of crimes she didn't commit 02:41

A senior citizen who lives in the Chicago suburb of North Aurora was told she was being accused of money laundering and drug trafficking. She wasn't. And she hadn't committed the offenses.

She was also told that, to clear her name, she needed to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new account that had been opened for her.

A scam was unfolding, CBS Chicago reports.

Henriette Schmuhl told the station she was a ball of emotions.

"I was so afraid. I was so afraid. And lying," said Schmuhl, who described herself as a good Christian woman.

For almost two months, the 74-year-old had been disappearing for hours at a time. Her family thought she was sick and kept it a secret to go get treatment. Instead, Schmuhl was visiting different bitcoin machines to convert chunks of her life savings to the digital currency.

She made massive withdrawals from her retirement accounts. $150,000 here. $30,000 there.

It started with an urgent phone call in May.

"'I want to let you know there is a warrant out for your arrest.' What?! I've never done anything," said Schmuhl, recalling the initial phone call with a man she came to know as "Andrew Hall."

Hall said he worked for the Department of Homeland Security. He gave a badge number and a warrant case number, telling Schmuhl to call police if she didn't believe him. But if she did call, he said, 'I'd better take my lawyer with me because I'm going to be arrested,' Schmuhl recounted.

The fake federal agent continued to communicate through phone calls, over the Telegram app, and by text. He told the retiree she needed a new Social Security number because she was the victim of identity theft.

"'Before we change your Social Security number, we're going to have to move your money out of your accounts to protect you,'" said Schmuhl, detailing more of Hall's excuses.

When she couldn't convert any more of her cash to Bitcoin, Hall persuaded her to use her credit cards to buy gift cards. The rationale there? That with a new Social Security number, she might have difficulty opening credit cards because of a lack of a credit history. So, she should hit her credit limits now and she'd get the money back later.

Schmuhl wound up spending more than $17,000 on gift cards. Anytime she protested, Hall had an answer.

"'I'm saving you. I'm helping you out,'" she said Hall told her. She thought he was her friend.

Then he didn't answer one day. His phone had been disconnected.

Investigators from the North Aurora Police Department considered all of that information and got the FBI involved. Cybersecurity experts traced the scammers to Malta – the island in the Mediterranean Sea, thousands of miles from Schmuhl, whose family was flabbergasted. They've started a GoFundMe to help her build her savings back up. 

"I know how hard she's worked her entire life and for that money just to be gone completely, it breaks my heart," said Janelle Hutchison, Schmuhl's daughter-in-law.

Schmuhl hopes her $230,000-plus mistake is a warning for all generations, which is why she wanted to share her story.

The Social Security Administration says callers threatening that you'll be arrested or that you'll lose your Social Security number are scammers and that you should hang up if you receive a suspicious call.

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