A 77-year-old Grand Island woman who lost $1,500 in a scam last month is glad she didn’t lose a lot more.
The people who carried out the fraud were “smooth and slick,” she said. She talked to two people, the first of whom was “the nicest man in the world.” The other one was manipulating and intimidating, she said.
She knew better than to cooperate, but the first man she talked to was so kind and compassionate that “my defenses went down and my brains went out the window.”
The problem began with an email she received from a company purporting to be McAfee, a computer security company. The email thanked her for buying a McAfee program for $499. “It’s been charged to your account,” the email said.
The woman had made no such purchase.
The email said, “If this doesn’t seem right to you, just give us a call and we’ll make things right with you.”
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She dialed the number listed at the bottom of the email, which was her big mistake, she said. Before the end of the day, the fraudsters had her buying three $500 gift cards at Walmart and trying to buy another at CVS.
The friendly man said taking care of the $499 charge would be easy to fix. But she’d have to talk to his supervisor.
“Then the next person I talked to was the shark,” she said.
The supervisor told her all she had to do was put $500 into her account.
He asked her to type $500 on her screen, which she did. But he added a zero to that amount, making it $5,000.
Against her better judgment, she gave the man her Social Security number.
At one point, she told the supervisor she almost felt she was being scammed. He acted as though he was offended by the implication.
“Here I am trying to save you money,” he said, and “you are accusing me of scamming you.”
On her computer screen, the supervisor displayed the current bank balances for both the woman and her daughter. Together, the balances totaled $27,000. She has no idea how the criminals obtained that information.
Before her eyes, the supervisor reduced those bank balances to zero.
Afraid she was going to lose the $27,000, she followed his instructions to go to Walmart.
He told her, “If you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’m going to keep your money and your daughter’s money.”
The supervisor stayed on the line while she went to the two Grand Island stores. “He was on the phone for two hours,” she said.
The criminal wanted to hear what she said to those stores’ employees.
Cashiers at both stores mentioned that a lot of people were falling victims to scams. The woman knew she might very well be one of them, but she was afraid she and her daughter might lose the $27,000.
The supervisor told her what to say if people questioned her purchase of the gift cards. She was to say that “The grandchildren are coming and we’re having a party.”
He also told her specifically what to do with the gift cards. She read the numbers to him from the three cards she bought at Walmart.
After she told him she bought only three cards, the supervisor said $1,500 wasn’t enough. “We need $4,500,” he said.
He told her to call her bank to increase the limit on her credit cards. He also directed her to go to CVS.
Because of a guard on her account, her credit card did not work at CVS, which was a welcome wakeup call, she said.
She went to her bank in Grand Island and said, “I am being scammed as we speak.”
A man at the bank froze the accounts for her.
She also went to the Social Security office, where she received help.
She knows now she should have gone straight to her bank or the police first. “But I’m smarter now,” she said.
The woman had done business with the real McAfee company in the past. She had purchased a protection plan for $100 or $130. But she would never spend $500 on her computer, she said in an interview.
She wants people to know that “the sharks are out there, and they work as a team. The first guy softened me up, and the second guy went for the kill.”
The friendly man said the woman sounded like his grandmother. “And he worked that to the hilt,” she said.
The next scammers who call the Grand Island woman won’t have much luck.
“I’m on to them,” she said.