LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Ernest Harris III finds small joy in balancing his checkbook online every morning.
The small joy has become a daily routine for the 75-year-old man since he and his wife moved to Las Vegas in 2000 and his time as an army combat medic in the late 1960s.
“Due to my occupation in Vietnam, I was exposed to Agent Orange,” Harris told Nexstar’s KLAS Wednesday morning, detailing the tactical herbicide proven to cause certain cancers and illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
He said the exposure left him battling a plethora of medical problems. He additionally has difficulty walking, breathing, and sleeping.
Now, in between dry coughs and gasps for air, he’s fighting a new battle: getting his money back.
Harris explained how, one February morning, his computer locked him out and displayed a message stating it would shut down for up to 48 hours. Unlike other pop-ups, he says he could not click out of it or even turn the computer off.
“All of a sudden, this Apple security thing pops up on my screen,” Harris said, describing another displayed message with a supposed phone number for Apple security services.
When he called this number, the 75-year-old says multiple representatives already knew his name and situation. Harris was connected to another representative who claimed he was from the security department at his bank and that hackers were attempting to access his bank account.
He said he never provided personal information over the phone. But, when he was told hackers were opening accounts on child pornography sites in his name, he listened to their request to withdraw all the money in his savings before hackers did.
He said he ventured to two different banks to withdraw a total of $33,800 before depositing it into two different Bitcoin machines as directed. The representative told him to not alert anyone else of this transaction in case hackers were monitoring his accounts, he said.
This was the last time Harris says he’s seen this money.
“(The representative told me) the next day a courier would deliver my account with the balance in it,” Harris said before rolling his eyes and calling himself a “knucklehead.”
When he tried filing police and FBI reports, he was told that “because I’m the one who went (to the bank) and got it, they couldn’t do anything about it.” He did complete a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, though the report states “the FTC cannot resolve individual complaints, but we can provide information about next steps to take.”
Harris now fears he and his wife will lose the house they recently refinanced to do home improvements, along with other possessions they make monthly payments on.
U.S. VETS – Las Vegas recently helped another veteran find housing after his caretaker scammed money from him. At the time, Team Lead Trista Dowd told KLAS that more veterans are turning to their “short-term rental assistance” as scams like these become more successful.
“We have sometimes families with children arrive (to Las Vegas), thinking they’re going to be moving into housing as soon as they get here. Come to find out, you sent someone a couple of thousand dollars and there was never a unit available,” Dowd said on March 3.
The FTC website says hackers utilize fear tactics like those experienced by Harris to retrieve information over the phone. They’ll commonly ask for payment via gift card, transfer app, or cryptocurrency, the website continues, adding that reputable agencies will not ask for any of this over the phone.
“I was fearful, and I did something I would never do,” Harris said while looking down. “That’s why I want other people not to get caught in something like that.”
The family of Harris has created a GoFundMe campaign in hopes to recover what was lost and allow the veteran to continue receiving medical care.