Monday, May 10, 2021

BE FOREWARNED

WE WERE SCAMMED I fell victim to an online scam last week. It’s embarrassing and infuriating, and I’m sure I’ll look foolish and naïve, but I’d like to share what happened so that others may be forewarned. It was a clever scheme and one that’s worth watching out for. 

It started with an email thanking me for my business and notifying me of an annual automatic deduction to renew an online protection service. Not recognizing the source but knowing that I routinely make arrangements for automatic deductions of this kind (GoDaddy, Earthlink, that kind of thing), I called the number to determine the nature of the service (my first mistake! I should have checked my bank accounts and credit cards to be sure that the deduction had in fact been made). 

Offered the option by the “nice” man who responded (why a nice man, I have to wonder now, and not the whole familiar, exasperating menu of options and lengthy holds?), I chose to cancel the service and receive a refund. To close the (lengthy, tedious!) process I was asked to type in the relatively small refund amount requested, but as I did so, the system mysteriously added some extra zeroes before I could stop the order going through. 

Oh no! My new friend was so distressed! My typing error meant that his company had now refunded me a very much larger sum than was intended. Of course, I needed to get their money back to them. My initial attempt to make a suggested wire transfer did not succeed, so they asked for a good faith payment in Target gift cards. (Okay, at this point I should surely have smelled a rat, but… I was reassured by the knowledge that I had a significant amount of “their money” in my account.) That initial request for gift cards was gradually tripled, by the way, but I won’t go into the excruciating detail of the trek from RiteAid to CVS to BestBuy and loading up our credit cards. 

After which, these people were kind enough to facilitate a wire transfer for the much larger balance… (This was early days, still a long time before I discovered that the “mistaken” refund that had arrived in my checking account was not their money at all, but had somehow been shifted over from another of my own family accounts. Their purported “refund” was in fact my own money from the start!) 

There followed literally days of negotiations to make good on what I was persuaded was a genuine mistake, involving financial shenanigans to avoid (at all costs!) having to pay a huge amount of tax on the mysterious, large sum of money that had appeared in my bank account (the IRS wants an explanation for anything more than $10K). More money was paid into my account to cover the dreaded taxes, and more taken out for the same reason. By this time, my head was spinning. I had become so engaged in the process I was unable to stand outside it and see it for the scam it was so obviously becoming. 

Bottom line, long story short, etc., the evidence piled up beyond my capacity to deny it. I realized I’d been had. I first froze all my bank accounts, then closed them and opened others. I alerted the bank’s fraud department and started a process to recall the major wire transfer—which or course may or may not happen. I tried, without success so far, to find someone in the Los Angeles Police Department interested in hearing the story and taking action. There’s a nightmare of reports to be made and consequences to be dealt with, including of course the revision of all my regular auto-deposits (Social Security, retirement plans…), and deductions to pay monthly bills, donate to charities, and so on. It will cost me at least another week of work to sort things out. 

So, friends, please guard against this particular piece of devilish cleverness. Above all, check to see in advance whether anyone thanking you for your business has actually done business with you before. When you read this story, please don’t attribute it only to my gullibility. Of course, there was some of that involved. But you’d be surprised, no matter how vigilant you are, at how easily you can get hooked. Please don’t!

3 comments:

Marie Smith said...

Oh Peter. No matter how wary we are, it is easy to be sucked into these scams. Between email and phone, every day someone is after our money. If they would only put their concerted effort into something legal…

robin andrea said...

I am so sorry this happened to you, Peter. It's such a bummer. My sister had a similar experience that took her a long time to finally resolve. It is such a bummer when someone reaches out and makes a request that seems reasonable and then turns into a nightmare like this. I hope it all works out. Take care there.

Nancy said...

I was almost fooled by a phone call from a young man pretending to be my step grandson. Since he has many problems, it wasn't a huge surprise that he seemed to be in some trouble. He said he'd had a car accident and he was in jail, needing bail money. When I insisted that I needed to call his parents, he hung up, of course.