Michigan woman loses life savings in licensing scam

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An elaborate scheme involving imposters acting as investigators led to a Michigan physical therapist and her family losing their life savings, state officials announced Monday.

The scheme was reported to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s consumer protection team and unfolded over several days with three men posing as investigators with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and an FBI agent, her office said in a statement.

"The men convinced the physical therapist that her license to practice was in danger of 'immediate temporary suspension' and directed her to the nearest UPS store to receive notification in writing," according to the release.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

The therapist reported the document the men provided appeared to be on official LARA letterhead and included her license number. The man posing as the “chief investigator” told her he was investigating a drug trafficking case involving her license and she was associated with 15 bank accounts laundering $2.4 million, state officials said.

"At one point, all three men got on the call with her, giving her the option of obtaining a lawyer and being stuck in jail without bail for at least six months, or cooperating with their 'investigation' by signing a federal bond agreement with the Department of Justice," the release said. "Convinced that the scam was legitimate, the woman followed their instructions, telling no one — including her husband —and made a wire transfer for her so-called bond. She was then provided with an 'application' to allegedly reinstate her license."

Once the woman's husband learned about the wire transfer, the police were called and confirmed the scam. The couple could not recoup any of their financial losses.

“This kind of scheme shows the depth and breadth bad actors will go to while robbing well-intentioned people who are fearful of the results should they not comply,” Nessel.

“Do NOT fall for anyone who calls and threatens you unless you provide them with some form of cash — in this case, a hefty wife transfer. Be alert, be skeptical and hang up, no matter how often they reach out to you. And by all means, immediately stop any payments and alert local law enforcement to report them. You may also wish to report this conduct to our office as it helps us understand what scams are circulating so that we can warn the public about them.”

Last fall, several state licensees found spam emails or spam websites impersonating LARA. But Orlene Hawks, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs director, said no one in her office “will ever reach out to you and threaten to suspend your license. Our investigators have teamed up with Michigan State Police to put a stop to as many scams as possible — but we need our licensees to be alert to the possibility that the next text, email or phone call they get about their license may be someone trying to scam them.”

Hawks said licensees should:

•   Be cautious of unsolicited requests for any of their personal information, which LARA will not contact you to directly request.

•    Be suspicious of any unexpected emails or links to websites.

•    Do not respond to — or open hyperlinks in — emails or text messages about validating your personal data.

•    If there are any hyperlinks, check the url before clicking. LARA websites will have “michigan.gov."

•    If you suspect fraud, report it immediately to your licensing bureau.

“Don’t be fooled by a scam, no matter how real it seems,” said Nessel. “Do your homework and report anything that is even remotely suspicious to the proper authorities. It is much easier to protect yourself from a scam than to recover from one.”