Oakland therapist scammed by police impersonator

An Oakland therapist is warning others after she was targeted in an impersonation scam, losing $3,000 in the process.

Anna Hirsch said she got a call on Wednesday from a phone number matching the City of Oakland. The person on the line said they were a police officer. 

"They gave a police officer’s name," said Hirsch, after confirming it by looking up the officer’s name. 

Hirsch said she was told by the person on the phone that she missed a court appearance. 

"I attempted to slow them down and ask questions and they were attempting to comfort me in that and slow down with me but kept aggressively telling me I was in a bad situation because I had missed a court case as a witness, which is a thing therapists can be called to do," said Hirsch.

The person on the phone said they sent a subpoena to Hirsch via mail, which was later signed and returned. When Hirsch said she never received or signed a subpoena, the impersonator gave an address it was sent to. 

"It was an old address of mine, and I was like ‘I don’t live there anymore,’ and they were like ‘oh this is a bad situation because now somebody else has information about your case,’" said Hirsch.

She went on to say the person told her she needed to come in person to take a signature test, proving she didn't sign the subpoena. She said she was told to go to the Oakland Police Administration building downtown and wait to be escorted inside, so she complied.

The person on the phone said if she didn’t pay, she could be arrested. "And they named things like contempt of court, failure to appear, citation numbers, they asked me to write them down," Hirsch explained.

Hirsch said the line cut out after she sent $3,000 dollars, divvying up the payment between Zelle, PayPal, and Apple Cash. 

The PayPal account had a profile picture appearing as the US Department of Treasury.

"I broke down crying," she said. "Somehow I think in that moment, it became clear to me what happened."

The Better Business Bureau tracks scams like these. Impersonation scams are a common scheme federal officials have been warning against. In this case, specifically targeting doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals.

"When we’re thinking about government agencies, you’re thinking of secure websites that actually have a payment platform and are not directing you to PayPal," said Anna Galvan, a spokesperson for the BBB San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California. 

BBB said you can identify an impersonation scammer when they are…

  • Reaching out unsolicited to ask for personal information or payment for something.
  • Pressuring you to act immediately.
  • Asking you to wire money or send gift cards (untraceable forms of payment).
  • Threatening you in some way (for example, penalties or jail time).

Scammers will use anything to make you vulnerable, like they did in Hirsch’s case when they used her old address against her. "They are trained to study you if they are after a certain amount of money," said Galvan.

Galvan also warns of AI technology, which has been used by scammers to change their voice to impersonate people. 

Despite feelings of embarrassment and shame victims may have in this kind of crime, Hirsch is speaking up to help others.

"I’ve even had people coming out of my friend circle saying this happened to me and i felt alone until you spoke up," said Hirsch.

She said she’s reported the incident to her financial institutions and started a GoFundMe, which helped her earn back what was stolen from her. 

"I definitely feel very violated and I’m having to work with that feeling of almost wanting to wash the sound of that person’s voice off of me," said Hirsch. 

Hirsch filed a police report with OPD and they are working on issuing a search warrant for the accounts that received her money.

"I want the banks to be more accountable. I want us to be able to see this coming. I want us to be more thoughtful with the technology we’re putting in people’s hands," she said.

Hirsch said a PayPal Customer Service representative told her they can’t help her because she paid the scammer through the "Friends and Family" option, but that they are investigating the allegedly fraudulent accounts.

PayPal offers their consumers information to protect yourself and avoid scams on their website, as well as information on what to do if you sent money to the wrong person

As far as her payments through Zelle and Apple, the platforms are designed for transactions between people who know each other, but their websites do provide warnings and protection information to prevent these types of crimes. 

A spokesperson from the Early Warning Services, LLC, the network operator of Zelle, said in a statement, "The dynamic nature of scams and financial crimes like these have been around for many years and we work to stay ahead of the latest trends. As the operator of Zelle®, we continuously review and update our operating rules and technology practices to improve the consumer experience. Zelle has driven down fraud and scam rates as a result of these prevention and mitigation efforts consistently from 2022 to 2023, with increasingly more than 99.9% of Zelle transactions occurring without dispute."

Zelle consumers are referred to "Pay it Safe" financial education materials on their website: 

Similarly, if you find yourself a victim of a scam, Apple consumers are directed to their support webpage if they have any questions or concerns about a transaction, how to recognize scams, and their security and privacy features. 

You can report scams to the BBB on their scam tracker.