Scams are real, and even if you think you have them figured out, you can easily become a victim yourself, or worse, it could affect someone in your life. For me, that “someone” was my mom who recently moved in with me. Shortly after arriving, she got hooked into a terrifying experience that is not at all uncommon. I am writing to share what happened in the hope that you will find it informative and helpful for yourself or for someone you care about.
First, my mom is a highly-educated person and enjoyed a meaningful and challenging career in public service. She is thoughtful and caring, logical, trusting, and full of great stories. With that as a background, here is a summary of how she got suckered into playing the scam game.
She received an email notification from Microsoft about a payment she had made when buying a new computer earlier that month. She called the number in the email to clarify the situation and was told she was due a refund of $300 (FIRST BIG MISTAKE). She also was told that Microsoft does refunds online, and to do so, they would need access to her computer. Unfortunately, she allowed them access (SECOND BIG MISTAKE). She was asked to type in the refund amount of $300 and when she did, it came up as $3,000 instead. She thought she had made the typo, but it was manipulated by the caller to appear that she made the mistake. The person she was talking to flipped out, saying he would be fired, Microsoft could be sued, and that the sky was falling. The key is that he created a sense of urgency. To “pay back” Microsoft, she would need to purchase five gift cards in the amount of $500 each. Since she was eager to fix her mistake and make it right, she agreed (THIRD BIG MISTAKE). All the while, he stayed with her on the phone, but asked that she not tell anyone about what was happening. He even said that she could only talk to him while she was outside, and not while in the store. After submitting the gift card information to them via a camera on her computer, she was told three of them did not work (not true). She would need to get three more for $500 each. Still feeling terrible about her mistake, she headed out the door (FOURTH BIG MISTAKE). You can guess what happened, those three didn’t work either, and she would need to purchase three more. But “Mr. Miller” had a new plan up his sleeve. Since she still owed them $1,500, they would transfer $18,500 to her checking account and she would make a wire transfer of the total of $20,000 to their office. Thankfully, after spending most of the day on the phone, my mom asked to take a break, and touch base in the morning. He agreed and she hung up.
When my mom revealed more of what was going on to me and my two boys, we knew something was wrong. Sure enough, we checked her bank accounts and found out the money being transferred from “Microsoft” was money from her savings account into her checking account. Our worst fears were realized, IT WAS A SCAM!!!!!!!!! It all happened under my watch, in my house, and I didn’t even realize the severity of what was going on all day. I felt terrible for not protecting my mom.
Over the next several days and sleepless nights, my mom closed all her accounts, including all bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts, College Invest, anything we could think of. She contacted Social Security and Medicare; reported the scam to local police; put a lock on her account with the three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian); took her new laptop in to be scrubbed (four viruses were removed); contacted her cellphone company and alerted them; and signed up with Norton LifeLock.
Like anyone who is harmed by a robbery, a scam or a hoax, my mom felt frightened, vulnerable, and was mad as heck. How could this have happened to someone who knew signs to watch out for? I know she will get over the hurt and anger, and while she was out $4,000, it could have been much worse. I wanted to share this story in the hope it will help someone else.
The following are some signs and warnings so you or your loved ones can “win” at this evil game:
- Many of the scamming outreaches come from reputable, trusted companies like Microsoft or Amazon.
- Do not call the numbers provided in the email/voicemail, but instead go to the official websites to find contact information.
- Do not click on links in emails unless you personally know the person and can verify that they sent the email.
- Do not buy gift cards.
- If you are scammed, do what you can to recover, then tell people about it, even if it makes you look foolish.
Finally, get over it! There are still lots of good people in this world! Do not let the “Scambags” control your life and win at their game.
Here are some things you can do if you have been scammed:
- Contact your banks and credit card companies.
- Contact the credit bureaus.
- Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a police report.
- Monitor your credit.
- Get emotional support from family or a professional.