REDMOND, Wash. - A victim in an elaborate COVID vaccine scheme who lost his life savings, nearly a million dollars, is speaking out.
Local investigators say there’s been at least one more King County victim of the same fraud. In that case, an elderly couple from Bellevue lost more than one million dollars.
"I was under this tremendous pressure, the way you think, the way you behave, is totally irrational."
The first call came to a Redmond man we’re calling John Smith at the end of April. Someone claiming to be from customs in China said Smith and his wife had sent a package containing fake COVID vaccines.
"We don’t believe it of course."
Smith said he and his wife were highly skeptical when a call came in from someone saying they were a detective in Hong Kong, but they said the phone number matched with the number on their website, and slowly it seemed believable.
"It became terrifying."
Over the course of two weeks, the scheme escalated.
"They made us believe someone was going to come to our house immediately and deport us, put a black mask on top of us and send us back to China immediately."
The fraudsters had them convinced their phones and computers were monitored, and if they spoke to anyone about the case, an arrest warrant could be issued.
"All we need is to keep our family, keep our kids united, keep my wife with me. We were desperate. I mean at that stage we are crazy. Honestly, in retrospect, I couldn’t recognize myself."
After weeks of talking to the couple, it was presented to them they could prove their innocence by sending literally every dollar they had in savings so the police could make sure it wasn’t "dirty money" and said they’d then get it back.
"In total, we sent 750K."
It was just the day after sending every penny of their savings that the couple discovered it was fraud.
Smith said at first he actually felt relief he and his wife weren’t ask risk for deportation and arrest, but soon after, devastation sunk in.
"The life ahead of you…how are you going to support the two kids? How are you going to live your life forward, with all the expectations, all the promise you were working for…there's no way back," said Smith.
"It’s one of the more elaborate scams that I’ve come across. It is diabolical, absolutely," said Supervisory Special Agent Ethan Via with the FBI Seattle bureau.
Special Agent Via said there’s been a spike in fraud targeting the local Asian community. He said the fraudsters involved are highly skilled and sophisticated. But he hopes people remember, law enforcement will never ask you for money while threatening to arrest you.
"It doesn’t work that way; we’re just going to arrest you," said Via.
"In retrospective, you can’t believe how silly you are, how many mistakes you made, how irrational you are," said Smith.
He said he knows he can’t get his money back, but he hopes to find another way to have it not be a total loss.
"If I can prevent others from suffering, I feel there is still some value out of it."
The FBI said if you wire money and think there’s a chance it could be fraud, contact them immediately. Timing is everything, as once overseas fraudsters empty the funds from the bank account, it’s most likely gone forever. If you have been a victim of fraud, report it here.
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