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Emails to my Therapist

Duped! Scammed! Robbed!

Dear Nicholas, I fell for an online scam that emptied our checking accounts. I can’t believe I let this happen. Reactions: shock, shame, anger, sadness, self-doubt, self-justification, hurt feelings, resignation, increased wariness, and maybe not enough increase in wariness. How did I let myself get duped, scammed, and robbed?

“My Nice New Online Friend”

There were multiple signs of scamming that I should have taken seriously. I’m too embarrassed to list them. Instead, I was beguiled by the fact that the guy on the phone sounded trustworthy. He gave an impressive performance. I thought we were trying together to solve a cyber-problem. Possible factor: the man had an Indian accent and I may have a friendly bias toward such voices after my winter in Varanasi researching my novel Sister India.

What Happened

Bob got an email saying he owed Geek Squad several hundred dollars. He didn’t owe it and asked me to stop the charge. (The email was not really from Geek Squad. By being impersonated, that company is an even bigger victim of this scammer.)

On the phone, my effort resulted in the guy on the other end “accidentally transferring” money into my account. And on my screen, it looked like that had happened. He asked me to wire him back money. I did. That’s the basic story, though it all took about nine days to happen.

I really believed he was a good guy. I was astonished when the banker told me he was not–and that, because the money was wired, we’d never get it back.

Outcome

Scammer got a pretty significant amount. I am embarrassed to say how much. (Okay, I’m updating to add this: it was $10,900, including Bob’s business account. Gulp)

We are still financially solid, no risk of going hungry. (“No thanks to me” is the thought that crosses my mind.)

The computer expert who cleaned the robber out of my computer (Mr. Modi at Compuguru4u.) told me that we’d gotten off relatively easy. He has helped people who had just lost typically between $70,000 and $80,000. A friend told me that an English friend of his had been robbed of 500,000 pounds. As victims, we’re not in those ranks. Still… I’m fighting off thoughts of good things our money could have paid for.

So far one check has bounced and several electronic payments have been stopped. Quite a few complications to deal with.

I’m making lots of phone calls and reports to crime-fighting agencies.

Elder Fraud??

At one government unit, my call was directed to the line for reporting Elder Fraud.  An added insult? No, actually, I don’t find “old” to be an insult. I’m happily 73 and have been–up until this week–fairly competent. I don’t view myself as “an old fool.” To whatever degree I’m foolish, it has always been true. I don’t blame my age.

On the other hand, I was born too early to be a “digital native.” I was middle-aged before starting to use a computer. Maybe that had some effect.

Bob has been really decent and reassuring about this.  He was clearly worried about how all this was going to affect me; particularly since I’m pathologically prone to fearing that I’ve done wrong and “ruined everything.”

Given that tendency, I’m bearing up better than I would have expected. Busily making phone calls and reports helps. When I’m done with the clean-up, I could have a sinking spell. I am resolved to dodge that; I don’t want the scamming creep to get to me any more than he has.

Feel free to send condolences.

Peggy

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Comments

  • November 11, 2022 at 8:21 pm Reply

    Oh Peggy, so much sympathy! I saw how that can happen myself, late one night, tired, at an artists colony, a message on my screen that my computer was compromised = I called the number! I think my tiredness actually helped me, because I just wanted to hang up so much, and then saw all the cracks, but I was, as with you, trying to take care of business in a timely way. . I’m inspired by your courageous reportage, as we all need a lot of reminding about some unfriendly actors, who are very good at what they do, very sociopathic (Lindsay Graham I’m looking at you. . ), while not giving up on all of the good that can come our way, and come from us. . Yrs, Amey

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 8:31 pm Reply

      Thanks, Amey. I’m glad you dodged the late-night bullet. And I share your lack of enthusiasm for Lindsay Graham. I appreciate your sympathy.

  • Kenju
    November 11, 2022 at 8:50 pm Reply

    I’m so sorry to read this. In my opinion, Bob. Bears equal responsibility for not seeing the possibility of a scam before he handed the problem off to you.

    I almost fell prey to a similar scam a few years ago. The Asian guy was trying to get me to give him control of my computer ( by clicking some link he sent me) and I almost did, but I remembered my daughter telling me that her friends father had lost a bundle that way…. So I hung up on him after yelling( I know you’re a scammer!!). Thank God I woke up!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 9:08 pm Reply

      Wish I’d yelled at mine, kenju! You’re wise.

  • November 11, 2022 at 8:58 pm Reply

    Hey Peggy, Good post as usual, and you know I consider this important reminder/lesson cheap at the price. I hate your feelin’ so bad about it, and I’m sure I’ve done equally unwise things – and fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t remember any of them – perhaps ane of the good things about being 80. All will be well, ‘cz all is well, and certainly well enough. I send you compassion and unstinting love and support. b

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 9:07 pm Reply

      Wow, I especially love that last sentence. And you.

  • November 11, 2022 at 9:38 pm Reply

    Thank you, Peggy, for your willingness to share this story with us. Your humility and honesty will help you move on; your self-forgiveness blesses all of us who read about what happened, knowing for sure that it really could happen to any one of us.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 11:31 pm Reply

      You are kind, Pat. I appreciate this encouragement. It’s genuinely helpful.

    • Karen Tam
      November 11, 2022 at 11:55 pm Reply

      Oh Peggy . . that is always an ongoing fear of mine . . No online purchases for me!! But then as I I often remember what my good friend, Michael said . . “So you feeler safer using spit?”

      • Peggy Payne
        November 12, 2022 at 2:59 am Reply

        No online purchases, Tam! That’s radical. And what exactly did Michael mean by that interestingly provocative comment?

      • November 12, 2022 at 2:10 pm Reply

        “safer using spit”…does that allude to securing an envelope containing an order or a payment?

  • Nancy Smith Marks
    November 11, 2022 at 10:17 pm Reply

    You are special, very special !! You gave this 90+ year old a great example of what not to do !! I am far more trusting than you — and I need all the reminders I can get of what NOT to do. My sweet daughter thanks you, my brothers (86 and 82) thank you — and as usual I am indebted to you. I love all of your writings, and I am more proud of you than you will ever know !!. Loved your wonderful parents, and am so proud of your accomplished brothers — and especially their older sister !! Love and prayers — always!!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 11:33 pm Reply

      Nancy, what a wonderful message from you! I appreciate it and you–so much. I’ll save a copy and pass your kind words on to my brothers. Thanks again for recommending me to Duke.

  • November 11, 2022 at 10:40 pm Reply

    Peggy, I hope consolation from the likes of myself and other friendly readers will be enough. I’m not sure it would be for me, were I to be similarly scammed. If it happened to me, I think I would need for Bob to either return to practicing psychotherapy and take me on again as a client or at least refer me to someone else. And I doubt I would have your courage (cited above by Amey Miller) to write about it on Moristotle & Co., even as a vignette about my fictional stand-in Goines.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 11, 2022 at 11:37 pm Reply

      The kind words actually do help, Moristotle. And so does writing about the problem, even more so doing it publicly. For one thing, I’ve received a bunch of emails from people who have also lost money to a scam. Not that I’m happy about their losses, but it does make me feel less like a one-of-a-kind dolt. And BTW, Bob is still in practice, three days a week and mostly on Zoom. He loves his work.

  • Morris Dean
    November 12, 2022 at 12:49 am Reply

    Bob is still in practice! That’s wonderful, and good on him! As wise and helpful as (no, wiser and more helpful than) any other person I have been honored to meet.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 2:57 am Reply

      Wise and helpful he is!

  • Anonymous
    November 12, 2022 at 11:48 am Reply

    Thanks for being so vulnerable as to share this in public. A wprd to the wise is sugficient, as Mre. Russ used to say.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 3:14 pm Reply

      I think I remember who she is. Taught Government? Wish I’d listened.

  • alcooke
    November 12, 2022 at 11:51 am Reply

    Thanks for being so vulnerable to share this in public. A word to the wise is sufficient. May i be wise enough to heed your challenge.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 3:13 pm Reply

      Thanks, Al. May we all!

    • Ron Perkinson
      November 17, 2022 at 5:32 pm Reply

      Peggy- if you would give me your social security number , birth date, and checking account number I am almost certain I can recover your money. I will hold this info confidentially.

      • Peggy Payne
        November 17, 2022 at 5:36 pm Reply

        Well, I trust this is a joke and not a legal service, RonPerk. Though for half a second I was tempted to tell all.

  • Lee Grohse
    November 12, 2022 at 12:16 pm Reply

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, Peggy. But thanks for reminding us how widespread this is and how hard to avoid. And kudos to you for putting this out there. It helps to remove the shame that people feel when they are robbed from this way when they see the other smart people get targeted. Peter and I recently dealt with a smaller but similar issue. For us it was discovering that our PayPal account had multiple recurring automatic deductions. Some totally unauthorized and some one time purchases or donations that continued to be debited month after month. It made me angry at Peter who I already have an issue with about his online shopping and his generosity with donations. He is a much more trusting person that I am. I handle the accounts so it really made me furious at myself for not catching this for who-knows -how -long. I felt lazy and old and incompetent and scared. I’m still angry but I’m angry at the thieves now. These folks make a whole career out of developing sophisticated ways to steal from regular honest people. And they don’t care if it is people like us who can sustain the losses. They will gladly ruin the lives of people on the margins. We can get smarter, but this is a true victim situation as much as having someone accost you in the street and take your wallet. Again, really sorry. Glad Bob is being supportive and understanding and I would have expected no less from him.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 3:09 pm Reply

      Lee, I told our very nice, good-humored accountant about this and he said, “I would be comfortable with those people being tortured to death.” You describe the emotions involved very well. And I like your thief-in-the-street solution; it’s really accurate.

  • Patti
    November 12, 2022 at 12:28 pm Reply

    Peggy! Thank you for sharing this. Those ‘you owe’ emails look so damn real!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 3:11 pm Reply

      Yes. And the “friendly” voice sounds so genuine. I keep thinking of “reassuring” things he said.

  • Anonymous
    November 12, 2022 at 3:24 pm Reply

    It can happen to any.

    One can live in a low crime area yet criminals can get right to the safest place…thanks to electronics.

    In the TV and before that the radio era the worst thinking penetrated locked (barricaded) doors.

    Thanks for the reminder that ‘it can happen here’.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 9:41 pm Reply

      Thanks, g. I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

  • November 12, 2022 at 6:01 pm Reply

    Peggy, about that trip to India to do research for your novel – were you able to claim the trip’s cost as a deduction on your income tax return? If so, maybe start writing a novel about someone’s falling for a Geek Squad scam…you might be able to write your loss off as research!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 9:43 pm Reply

      I’d have written off the India trip, but it was paid for by a fellowship. Interesting idea about writing off a scam loss. It may be possible to write off that kind of loss anyway, without even having to write a book.I’m going to find out.

  • Mary Moore
    November 12, 2022 at 11:08 pm Reply

    Peggy,
    Sending mega sympathy, and thanks for your courage and generosity in sharing your story – generous because you may help someone else avoid this. Here’s my PSA, based on mandatory cyber security training at work: avoid clicking on any link or calling any number that comes in an email that wasn’t expected. Instead go to the company’s official website and use contact info there.

    I’ve been scammed by a guy at an airport who convinced me that he had fixed a nonexistent problem with my car. I gave him $100 when I was unemployed and living on beans and rice. This was years ago, but I can still remember vividly how mad and embarrassed I felt.

    I’m glad it wasn’t any worse for you and Bob, and so, so sorry this happened! This is going on every day, and it’s so wrong and distressing.

    • Peggy Payne
      November 12, 2022 at 11:24 pm Reply

      That airport guy has no doubt come to a bad end, Mary. And thanks for your PSA. Very helpful! There seem to be so many variations on scamming. I think there’s a market for an Idiot’s Guide to being scammed. But then bad-guys-in-training could pick up new tricks. I’d like to see some techniques developed for tracking them down.

  • Anonymous
    November 13, 2022 at 1:00 am Reply

    Peggy this happened to me too, and I felt all the horrible emotions you mentioned, couldn’t believe I was so stupid. What hooked me was the fear my computer was compromised and this nice guy (yes an Indian accent but I haven’t gone to India, he just was so considerate and trustworthy sounding) was helping me. Once my brain was on this « I am being rescued from danger » track, all the red flags were discounted and I did everything this guy told me to do, including get in my car( leave your computer running) and get a gift card at Best Buy and return to read him the numbers. Fortunately my partner called, and immediately said « you are being scammed, » and when she said that the scales fell off my eyes and I immediately knew she was right. And that’s how I ended not being scammed. Still I was shaken to the roots for several days. Now I see through all those messages easily. Never call back messages telling you to call numbers for whatever reason.
    Sorry this happened to you, Peggy, and thanks for sharing.
    Fabienne

    • Peggy Payne
      November 13, 2022 at 5:09 am Reply

      I’m so glad you dodged the scam, Fabienne. A close call that turned out to be educational. I wish I’d stopped at that point. It’s interesting how vulnerable we are to a warm considerate voice. It’s clear what a powerful force that is–and easily available to be used in a good cause.

  • Randee Bieler
    November 13, 2022 at 7:32 am Reply

    Awww, Peggy, I hate that this happened to you. I would have probably fallen for it, honest sounding, helpful soul, yep, I would have done it

    • Peggy Payne
      November 13, 2022 at 3:18 pm Reply

      Thanks, Randee. He even said, “Have a nice weekend and don’t worry.” I hear other people talking about how nice the voice was of the person who scammed them. Talk soon. I hope October went well as it could.

  • Ruth
    November 14, 2022 at 8:48 pm Reply

    Peg, I am soooo sorry you had to go through this but your blog on the experience is an AMAZING PUBLIC SERVICE to all. One thing I have learned is that when you get an unexpected email from what appears to be Geek Squad or any number of other businesses with fake charges or invoices, if you look past what comes up as the outward-facing email address you find an email address that cannot possibly be right. For example, I recently got a note from “Geek Squad” saying they had charged me $721 for annual renewal blah blah. But the return email address was actually: [email protected] The only problem is the scammers just keep getting sneakier and sneakier!!

    • Peggy Payne
      November 14, 2022 at 8:55 pm Reply

      Thanks, Ruth. And if I’d seen the email, I probably would have recognized the scam. But Bob got the email and I just saw the downloaded invoice. The email address was “maverick” which surely would have gotten my attention.

      I’m amazed at how many people have said I was “brave” to write this post, but for me it’s quite the reverse. It was a big relief to write it and to post it. Keeping quiet about troubling stuff is much more painful and difficult for me. I appreciate your showing up here.

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