Impostor Targets NBC Bay Area Reporter

Scammer Used Reporter's Name, Image to Launder Stolen Money

If you see an ad online seeking a personal assistant for NBC Bay Area reporter Bob Redell, be warned: it's a scam.

We learned about the bogus Bob after a Texas woman contacted NBC Bay Area and said the impostor had cost her $12,000.

Redell is a busy guy, covering the news each morning for "Today in the Bay." Perhaps he could use a virtual assistant, but Bob says he's not looking for one.

"I am not hiring," Redell said.

An advertisement on the internet suggested otherwise. A scammer posted a fake job opening, using Redell's name and photo. It claimed he was hiring a virtual assistant.

Tamika Smith, who lives in Houston, admits she fell for it.

"It looks legit," she said.

Smith took the bait and the virtual assistant job.  But first, she says she searched "Bob Redell" online.

"He's telling the truth," Smith says she thought at the time. "He's actually a news reporter."

Quickly, the impostor funneled about $12,000 into Smith's bank account. He then directed her to withdraw all the funds and feed the bills into a cryptocurrency ATM that converts cash into Bitcoin, or BTC.

Smith says the impostor had an explanation for the unusual transaction.

"He just said he needed to pay some bills and buy supplies, and they only took BTC for payment," Smith said.

Once that money went into the Bitcoin ATM, it vanished. So, what was actually going on here?

NBC Bay Area figured it out. The scammer had hacked a bank account in Detroit. That's where he swiped the money he later sent to Smith. It appears the impostor hired Smith to act as a "mule".

Smith discovered the fraud when her bank flagged the transfers and put her on notice.

Smith said the bank told her, "'This is a scam. We're freezing your account indefinitely.' And I was like, 'Wait a minute. What do you mean? This is not a scam. I am doing a job here.'"

The bank recalled the transfers, to return the money to its rightful owners in Detroit. But the cash was already gone -- Smith had converted it to Bitcoin and sent it to the scammer. That leaves Smith on the hook for $12,000.

"A whole lot of money that I don't have," Smith said.

NBC Bay Area asked the banks and Bitcoin ATM operator if there's anything they could do to help Smith. They said no. She's now asking the public for help on GoFundMe. She's also asking you to be skeptical when anyone online wants to hire you.

"Meet them in person," Smith said. "Make them show you their ID, too."

The real Bob Redell agrees with Smith.

"It's frightening," Redell said. "The lesson is, unless you get someone on the phone, or in person, face-to-face, I wouldn't believe what you see on the internet."

And just once more, for the record: Bob Redell is not in the market for a virtual assistant.

"I'm not hiring anyone," Redell said. "I don't even have a lawn person, or a pool person. I do the work myself."

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