I’ve been scammed.
Not just a little scam—a scam of epic proportions.
All the things they say about the experience are true. I feel violated. Stupid. Old. Gullible. And insecure doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The scammer spent two and a half hours on the phone with me in the afternoon. Then I spent a few more hours on the phone with my bank and my credit card provider. Almost an entire day was devoted to the loss and possible retrieval of a fairly large amount of money. Add aggrieved to my list of feelings.
How could I possibly spend two and a half hours on the phone with this man and not realise he was scamming me? Well, I didn’t. I was suspicious—very suspicious. But he talked to me as if I was stupid, so I believed him. And I don’t like to be rude.
He established his credentials early on. I was initially called by Scammer Number One, a woman claiming to be checking two possibly fraudulent credit card transactions. Once we had established that they were indeed fraudulent, she said she would put me through to Citibank (my credit card provider). Enter Scammer Number Two. Quite early on he required me to retrieve a four-digit code from Citibank; this code arrived on a genuine Citibank message thread, so my distrust was allayed.
He told me that my whole online identity had been hacked and was now compromised, but he was here to help. I just had to do what he told me to retrieve my money and secure my online life.
From there on in, he made ever more audacious demands, all the while assuring me that I was reversing transactions or sending money to myself. More than once I told him I wasn’t comfortable arranging for money to leave my account or authorising transactions that I didn’t want. This was when he talked to me as if I was stupid.
He was subtle about it though, and just adopted a slightly superior tone: that of a man-of-the-world pacifying a little old lady who was hopelessly out of touch. Now I’m no techno-wizard, but I’m not out of touch either. For some reason I’ll never understand, that tone made me carry on. After all, he was from Citibank, wasn’t he? I didn’t want to waste his time.
Finally, at the point when I was just about to transfer $5,000 to a fictional account set up in my name, I again said I wasn’t comfortable. He then had me open a web page that purported to be Interpol, and I watched a fluorescent green line that was supposedly electronically tracking my hacker. This page also showed me his picture—a shifty-looking bastard to be sure!
And then I thought, For f*cks sake, why on earth would Interpol be interested in my humble hacker? But they must be, because this man was from Citibank. They must have a really good security system.
Long story short, this scammer ended up with around $7,000 of my money, pictures of my face and both sides of my driver’s license, access to my phone because he’d instructed me to change my IP address, and access to both my credit card and my bank account. Oh, and quite a lot of Bitcoin. At his bidding, I had also downloaded two new apps—one of which was to enable him to access my phone.
Two days later my cards have all been cancelled. My internet banking is shut down and no money can leave my account. Money can, however, go in—so if my scammer is suddenly overtaken by an attack of conscience, he can return what he’s stolen. (Yeah sure, and are those pink pigs flying on the horizon over there?) I’ve changed all my passwords, wiped my iPhone, and made an appointment for someone to come and upgrade my online security. And I have no words for the furious resentment I felt as I did all this.
These scammers are sophisticated and must spend a lot of time staying ahead of public awareness. Why would a person invest all that time in order to make others unhappy, insecure, and financially compromised? How do they sleep at night, not knowing the extent of the harm they have done to others during their “working” day?
As I was queuing at the bank to get some cash to tide me over, a lovely Scottish lady said quietly, “Are you all right, hen?” She was so kind and concerned, chatting away about friends she’d known who’d suffered similar fates. “So, you shouldn’t feel stupid, hen. It could happen to anybody.” I don’t know her name, but she helped restore my faith in human nature.
As various friends have pointed out: I’m too trusting. I tend to see the best in people. The trouble is, I like that about myself. So how to carry on trusting, whilst still being on the alert for the darker side of human nature?
Well, I’ll be more discerning about who I trust going forward. If I’m rung by strangers, no matter how convincing, I won’t believe them until I’ve checked. And above all, I won’t be afraid to be rude! I could get to like that.
What is it anyway with this need to be polite? Is it because I want people to like me? Why does it matter, especially when it’s someone I’m never going to meet? These are good questions—but I didn’t need to be scammed in order to ask them.
It’s time to write about something else now. But not till I’ve checked that all my doors are locked, just in case the man from Citibank decides to pay me a visit.