I’m always disappointed when a liar’s pants don’t actually catch on fire.
Today’s post is hard for me to write. I’m admitting to doing something so obviously stupid, and I know I’ll catch hell from you. I wasted three hours of my time on Saturday dealing with an unnecessary issue, and I have myself to blame. Writing this post may warn others, and it will certainly let my friends know how gullible you can be, despite being smart. Smart has nothing to do with being scammed. I should have seen all the red flags as they were happening.
Late last year, while I was unemployed, I was working on my laptop at home. All of a sudden, gibberish appeared on my computer screen. Characters, symbols, warnings, noises. And a phone number to call for Microsoft support. I thought about this for a few minutes. This hasn’t happened before. What if this is real? Why not call and get this fixed? This noise is annoying. Red Flag!
I didn’t know what to do. In hindsight, why didn’t I get on Google on my iPad? Instead, I decided to call the toll-free number flashing on my screen. I immediately knew I was talking to someone in another country. Red Flag! But I kept talking, he was getting information from my computer, and I ended up “purchasing” a service contract to the tune of $250.
I know, what an idiot. I called the bank and the FTC, and didn’t get anywhere with a refund. I chastised myself for months, and my computer seemed to be working fine. When I started back to work, I was able to do some necessary personal tasks on the work computer, if necessary.
Months went by and, of course, I knew that the money was never coming back to me. And then about a month ago, I started getting calls on my cell phone from either No Caller ID or Caller Unknown. I wouldn’t answer those calls until, eventually, “David” left me a voicemail message. It seems that the company is going out of business and is reaching out to all their customers to ensure that refunds are given to everyone. Red Flag!
The calls were coming from the 928 area code in Page, Arizona. After receiving at least five calls a day for a week or more, I finally answered David and we chatted about how to go about getting my refund. Of course, I had to be at my laptop. Red Flag! I couldn’t just get the refund in the form of a check since the “company was officially out of business.” Red Flag! I argued with David about being able to talk to someone outside of normal business hours, but it seemed that this out-of-business entity worked the same exact hours I did. Red Flag!
They finally agreed to speak with me on a weekend, and I sat down at my laptop on Saturday afternoon about noon. “David” answered the phone and then transferred me to “John,” who specialized in getting the refunds for their “valued customers.” Red Flag! I logged into my computer and opened up TeamViewer, which allowed John to check the server and give me instructions on getting my refund.
To cover all “costs and fees,” John was now authorized to give me a $300 refund. Red Flag! I kept telling myself that, because the money was coming back to me, this was all good. Not a scam. It will all work out. Red Flag!
Ninety minutes went by and we were now able to get to the notepad on my desktop where I could confirm my name, address and refund amount. I was told to type in dollar-sign, 3, 0, 0, which I proceeded to do. But wait, after carefully typing in $-3-0-0, an extra zero magically appeared at the total! Red Flag! And now, instead of $300, a refund was immediately being processed for $3,000. Red Flag! I know I didn’t click that extra zero, and it must have come from John’s end. I started feeling sick about this, because I could just picture never getting this money back. Red Flag!
John was lamenting that his bosses would laugh at him and that the extra money would come out of his paycheck. (“I’m going to lose three months salary because you added a zero.” Nice job if you can get it …. for $900 a month. Loser.) Sure enough, John put me on hold and came back with instructions about how to go about retrieving the $2700. Of course, since we can’t have any cash transactions, and I can’t write a check to refund them their damn money, John gave me another idea. Red Flag! Go to CVS and transfer the money like a money order using a service available at the store. I tried to put it off until another day, but Leslie encouraged me to just get it over with.
“Okay, John. I’ll go to CVS.” His instructions were to stay on the line and let him know when I was in the parking area of the store. Red Flag! Sitting outside of the store, John tells me to go inside and buy 100 $100 iTunes gift cards. Red Flag! I was told that I would have to make two or three transactions because the store wouldn’t sell $2,700 worth of gift cards in one visit. Red Flag!
Now, finally, I’m coming to my senses! The more John is talking to me, the angrier I’m getting, and the more I want to slap myself in the head for letting it get this far. Red Flag! While still talking to John, I go to my bank’s app on the phone and check my balance. Yes indeed, the $3,000 is now in my checking account, but it shows up as a transfer from my line of credit! Red Flag! Nope, this is not happening. So I back out of the parking lot and immediately drive to my bank. I tell John that’s where I’m going and he starts to get angry and can’t believe that my bank is open on a Saturday. Red Flag! “I told you not to check your bank information from any other device but your computer.” Me: “Who do you think you’re talking to?!”
Now, finally, I’m done being nice to John. “I’m being held prisoner by you and I don’t appreciate it.” “This is not what I should have been doing for the last three hours.” “I want my money back and I want it now!” John: “I thought you were a nice lady, and now you’re just an angry lady.” Red Flag!
As I’m walking into the bank, I put the call on “mute” and start relating the story to the bank teller. Sure enough, Laura instructed me to tell John that I’m at the bank, we all know this is a scam, and that I’m going to call the police. I did that and then hung up the phone. John tried to call back once after that and then not again throughout the weekend.
I’m thankful to have a 25-year relationship with my bank and they practically know me by name when I walk in the branch. Laura reversed the line-of-credit transfer and froze my account for a short while, in case John had access to any of my accounts.
Okay, I’m done recapping a horrible three hours of my weekend. I’ll admit to feeling stupid, angry, embarrassed. How could I let myself be taken advantage of like this? Why did I follow his instructions and drive to a store to potentially spend at least $1,000 of my own cash to buy gift cards that would have been wiped clean in minutes….allowing me to lose at least $1,000 cash in minutes. Red Flag! What an idiot.
What’s done is done. I can’t dwell on this incident any longer. Luckily, I’m not out any money (except for my initial $250 charge last year) and it could have been worse. I might have driven my car to Page, Arizona to find John myself. Who knows what I would have done face-to-face.