Nonprofit Helping Refugees Becomes Victim of PayPal Identity Theft

National News

DES MOINES, Iowa — Alison Hoeman had plans to light up the holidays in Des Moines with a visit from Santa on Dec. 6 in communities heavily populated by refugees.

“Toys, coats, boots, all kinds of essentials that Santa is going to pass out,” said Hoeman of Des Moines Refugee Support.

Hoeman is head of the nonprofit made up of mostly Des Moines Public School teachers. Hoeman helps assist refugee families with school supplies, clothes, food and other necessities with events throughout the year. “We’ve been putting the call out for monetary donations so Santa could go grocery shopping,” said Hoeman.

On Monday, her plan for an annual Santa visit to refugee communities seemed to all come crashing down with an alert on her phone. “I had apparently withdrawn $500 cash from my PayPal account at Walmart, which is interesting because I’ve been in quarantine for the last 27 days,” Hoeman said.

Hoeman called PayPal customer support and they launched an investigation into the withdrawal. “They wouldn’t tell me anything. They wouldn’t tell me the location of the Walmart. They wouldn’t tell me anything,” Hoeman said. “Somebody got into my account and they created a code that they take into Walmart. They are supposed to show an ID, but nobody had my ID and somebody handed them $500 in cash.”

The response to her fraud claim was quick but not what she hoped. “I got an email four hours after my initial phone call with them saying they didn’t see any unusual activity and that it was denied,” said Hoeman.

Hoeman kept pressing. Not just to get her own cyber identity back but also because she knew the impact that could be lost without that money. “It kind of makes me sick to my stomach. Whether they knew what it was for or not, that’s not your money. Stop it,” said Hoeman.

Forty-eight hours later, PayPal reversed course and restored her money, but judging by PayPal’s customer support forum, she is not alone. “There were 80 other complaints of the exact thing happening and a lot of those people said it hadn’t been resolved,” Hoeman said.

Thankfully her persistence will create positivity, despite an attempt to steal joy from refugee families this holiday season. “I’m just going to be really vigilant and make sure the money comes directly out of those accounts as soon as it pops in,” said Hoeman.

You can learn more about Des Moines Refugee Support and where you can volunteer or donate by visiting their Facebook page.

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