MILWAUKEE — Jerry Alberte of Milwaukee never thought he'd have his bank account wiped out just by trying to pay his $65 doctor's bill.
"I pay most of my bills online," Alberte said.
"I went to pay my Columbia St. Mary's physicians bill and, you know, they have a QuickPay Portal that you just log on to that and you give them your access code that comes with your bill, and I did that and an error message came up and it said to call this number," he explained.
Alberte called that number. He believed he was speaking with a representative from QuickPay Portal who told Alberte there was a glitch in their system.
"I'm sorry sir, but your payment didn't go through to the hospital, to the physician, it's stuck here. We're going to try and refund it back to you," Alberte said the person on the phone told him.
"That happens, right?" Alberte thought at the time.
Alberte gave the person over the phone access to his computer and access to his checking account, so he could receive that refund.
"While he's talking to me, I don't know what he's doing. He's on my computer, he's doing all of this stuff - the screen gets all funky," he said.
Alberte said instead of giving him $65, they added a couple of zeros.
"They put $6,500 into it," he said.
"So, when I go to sign off and I'm like, 'Hey, there's a mistake here. You put too much money in," he recalls telling the person over the phone.
"The person I am, well you got to get your money back," Alberte continued.
"He said, 'Sir, it's not working, there's a difficulty, Can you wait?' He's very polite," Alberte remembers.
"Eventually it wasn't going to work properly, so he wanted me to go to Walmart and buy gift cards to get their money back," he said.
They instructed him to buy $200 worth of gift cards, which Alberte did. Throughout several phone calls, Alberte says he was threatened over the phone for more money. At one point, he was told to get cashier's checks and send them to an address he was given.
"If you don't go and do this, I already got your Social Security number. I've got all of your information. I'm going to open an account. I'm going to open a loan for you, with six, seven times more than you owe us because you are not willing to cooperate," he said the person told him.
Alberte says another person who claimed to be with QuickPay contacted Alberte.
"Listen, you got to do what they say. I'll get you your money back. So, go to the bank and withdraw the money and do exactly what they say," Alberte recalls him saying.
Alberte said he called the police and tried calling the FBI, but it was too late. The money on the gift cards was gone and they had already wiped out his checking account that had $8,500 inside.
"He reeled me in. I'm a sucker. It's embarrassing. But, he got it. I know better," Alberte said.
A spokesperson for Athenahealth, which operates the QuickPay Portal, provided the below statement to TMJ4 News:
"Athenahealth takes our responsibility to safeguard patient information very seriously. Our QuickPay Portal remains secure, but we understand patients have encountered fraudulent lookalike websites when searching for the QuickPay Portal. We have made our clients aware of the existence of these sites, and we are actively engaged in efforts to make sure patients access the legitimate QuickPay Portal, which will never request access to a patient's computer or call a patient."
As we learn of imposter sites, we seek the cooperation of domain registrars and web hosts to take down the offenders. It is unfortunate that others create these imposter sites to potentially exploit people who are trying to pay their medical bills. Patients who believe they have made a payment to an imposter website should contact their bank or credit card company and inform the medical practice whose bill they intended to pay."
Alberte has reached out to his bank and his medical provider, Ascension. A spokesperson for Ascension says Alberte won't have to pay that $65 bill he owes. He's lost enough.
While paying online is convenient, Alberte says from now on, he's going to pay with checks or a credit card.
"I may be smarter than a 5th grader, but I got schnuckered here," Alberte said.