22 January 2023
(WSPA) – A year ago, we brought you the story of an Oconee County woman who lost $20,000 dollars to a sophisticated scam.
However, that turned out to be only the beginning of a journey for the Seneca grandmother, that took her all the way to the nation’s capital.
How her words are making an impact in fighting financial fraud in this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive.
When we first met Polly Fehler in January 2022, the retired air force officer and former registered nurse was struggling to pay back the $20,000 that scammers conned her into wiring them, after they hacked into her bank account.
It was then that she told us, “I didn’t just fall, I went down to hell with this.”
Today, she is happy to report, “I’m on top of the world right now.”
As Fehler will attest, that journey didn’t happen overnight.
CONGRESSIONAL INVITE TO WASHINGTON D.C.
A few months after our story aired, U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s office contacted 7NEWS looking to connect with Fehler to invite her to speak at a hearing on “Fraud Targeting The Elderly.”
“And they were so encouraging, they said do you realize if you were to come to Washington and be able to testify before the Senate Committee on Aging about exactly what happened to you, they could ask you questions and they could get everything out in the open,” said Fehler.
Therefore, Fehler went to the nation’s capital, despite her nerves, and spoke by all accounts, as if she had done it a thousand times.
“I’m here today because I was a survivor. God is giving me the strength to reclaim my life and I want others to know there is hope out there,” said Fehler at the hearing.
HOW THE SCAM WORKED
Fehler explained to lawmakers that the hackers had accessed her bank account, activated a loan in her name, and used that to con her into wiring it to the scammers.
She told lawmakers how her bank, USAA, had failed to alert her to the unusual activity.
“They could see that I had taken out $20,000 on my home equity line of credit. I had not opened that line of credit for 17 years,” she explained at the hearing.
Senator Scott told 7NEWS her words were powerful, so we asked him if he thought her testimony might help inform future laws to help seniors.
“I hope so, certainly I think if it doesn’t, I’d be stunned. Her testimony was fantastic, it was compelling, but it also allowed us to see the breadcrumbs to preventing more scams in more areas. One of the things we have done is work on our scam fraud book and her testimony will continue to make the next iteration of that book even more powerful, more impactful and frankly will reduce more scams because of her testimony,” said Senator Scott.
It wasn’t just the Senator from South Carolina who was impressed. He said, so was Senator Collins who asked Mrs. Fehler this poignant question:
“If someone from your bank had seen this very suspicious transaction where you are opening up a line of credit that you had not used in I think you said 17 years and asked you about it, would that have stopped the scam?” Senator Susan Collins, from Maine, asked.
“Yes, and it would have stopped it on any level, they could have emailed me, they could have texted me, they could have phoned me. If I go on a trip and I use a credit card, and I had not let USAA know I was traveling through a different state, the first charge might go through, the second time my card would have been frozen. That’s $20. We are talking about $20,000, and they did not find I had a right to expect notification,” Fehler at the hearing said.
Fehler told 7NEWS the whole experience restored her hope in helping others.
“The Uplifting part for me was to see that committee at work because they didn’t work like you see them represented on television where this one is fighting that one. They worked together. It was fantastic to see this kind of a comradery between the members of that committee. It was beautiful,” Fehler when she was back in Seneca said.
HOW FEHLER SAID LAWMAKERS CAN HELP VICTIMS
When the hearing was over, she wasn’t over just yet.
As Senator Scott thanked her, she asked if she could make one more comment.
“When the banks themselves make the decision, this isn’t viable, they are going to lose the money, of course they are going to lean towards that, that’s a biased finding. Is there any way we could make them have an independent organization that would overview anybody that wants to appeal one of their decisions,” Fehler asked the members of the Committee on Aging.
The Chair, Senator Casey said “Thank you we certainly will take that into consideration, we learn a lot from these hearings, and we also get a lot of good ideas.”
THE BIG SURPRISE
Fehler said her testimony in September helped her feel empowered, but what truly brought her to cloud nine was what happened just a few weeks ago.
That’s when Fehler got this notice from USAA that her fraud claim was resolved and her $20,000 plus interest was being returned.
“I don’t know who initiated the reopening of the case before the bank, I don’t’ know how it happened or what happened, I just want to say whoever big or small I just want to say thank you.”
We reached out to USAA about the reopening of her case, and while the company did not respond in time for broadcast, in USAA’s original statement the company said:
“We strongly encourage all consumers to never send money to someone that you do not know, and we have programs in place to warn and educate our members, as well as checks and balances to deter and detect suspicious activity. Reputable companies will never contact you and ask for sensitive information or ask you to send them money. If in doubt, it’s best to hang up and contact the company directly before taking any kind of action.”
Fehler wants to make sure every U.S citizen knows about the Fraud Hotline that is operated by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, (855) 303-9470.