Hang out in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and you might spot Gracie Baruzzi taking a stroll with a four-legged companion at her side.
For the past six months, people have hired Baruzzi to get their pooches some exercise via the popular dog walking app, Wag!, which she describes as “Uber for dogs.”
For the oncology nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, the side hustle is a great way to help pay the bills and feed her affinity for dogs.
Everything was going great until Baruzzi accepted a walk in late October.
“It looked completely normal,” she recalled. “There was a picture of a cute dog, the name of an owner, and an address.”
However, little did Baruzzi know, the dog profile for “Yuki” with owner “Brian” on Charles Street was a fake listing.
Just moments before arriving at the address, Baruzzi received a phone call from someone named “Matt,” who gave the badge #70501 and said he was with Wag! customer service. “Matt” told her the company had noticed some suspicious activity on her account.
From what appeared to be a series of Wag! verified text messages, “Matt” asked Baruzzi to confirm her birthday, email and her bank account username.
The caller even said he would let “Brian” know that she would be arriving a few minutes late for her walk with “Yuki.”
“It was so believable,” Baruzzi said. “The only time I thought something was strange was how he hung up the phone. He hung up in the middle of a sentence and his voice changed a bit. That’s when I had a sinking feeling.”
By the time the call ended, Baruzzi discovered that cyber thieves had fraudulently transferred $2,600 from her Bank of America checking account. It was a devastating blow to a newlywed who just got hitched last summer.
“It meant that we could not pay rent that month,” she said. “It was just the deepest, sinking feeling.”
The cyber-criminals pulled off the heist by transferring the funds through Zelle, the rapidly-growing e-payment platform.
When criminals gain key bank account info, they can leverage it to make almost instantaneous money transfers through Zelle. Last year, for example, a North Reading nurse saw thieves steal $1,500 from her bank account through a Zelle transfer — executed in a manner of minutes.
And as Baruzzi discovered, it can be extremely tough to convince the bank to reimburse the stolen money.
Following an investigation, Bank of America denied Baruzzi’s claim for a refund (along with her appeal). According to denial letter, the transaction was “validated using an authentication code sent to a valid phone number belonging to a signer on the account.”
In other words, the bank had concluded Baruzzi had somehow signed off on the exchange of funds.
“I was totally shocked,” she said. “It was very frustrating to be told that I had done something that I hadn’t.”
In response to questions from NBC10 Boston, a Bank of America spokesman passed along tips for how to protect online accounts and avoid falling victim to scams, and added: “Consumers should never provide confidential account information to non-account holders.”
A Wag! spokesperson also provided advice and said if walkers are ever unsure if a phone call, email or text is legitimate, they should contact Wag! customer service directly.
“Wag! will never contact customers or caregivers to ask for login information, passwords or other banking information,” the spokesperson wrote.
Baruzzi first contacted me to help raise awareness for other people who use the Wag! service.
But after our inquiry, Bank of America also had a change of heart, and determined that it would reimburse Baruzzi the $2,600 in stolen funds.
“That is such a relief!” Baruzzi told me. “I called my husband and said, ‘We can pay rent! Everything will be okay.’ To have it end on a high note just means the world.”
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.