Scammed! I never thought this would happen to me

It is The Charlotte News’ general policy to include the names of writers of articles. One notable exception is not including the names of victims of some crimes. We decided to apply that exception in not including the author and victim of this story.

Doggone! I just got another email from Norton Utilities informing me that my contract had been renewed for another year of service, guarding my computer from invasive viruses, and that it had been “updated successfully,” all for $543.

I was very annoyed, even alarmed and decided to cancel my contract with this company, if possible. I searched the email and found a number to call to cancel the contract. I dialed and after three tries, “Steve” answered.

He said he could help me cancel the contract and refund my money. He explained that he would need my cooperation. I eagerly followed his directions.

I thought it weird, though, that we’d have to load a program onto my computer in order to refund the $543. After we went through about 50 steps and loaded a program onto my computer, I opened my Peoples checking account, and he instructed me to type in the amount to be refunded. So, I typed in $543, and pressed “enter.”

Immediately we both saw that a mistake had been made. The computer program had omitted the decimal point, so the amount deposited was $54,300. He got very upset and seemed to panic: “Ooh! I’m going to lose my job! Please help me!”

It seemed to me that we could simply reverse the step that we’d just taken, but somehow that seemed to him to be impossible. I assured him that I would help however I could to get the money back into his company’s account. I parked my thinking skills in my feet, exactly as “Steve” hoped I would.

Next came a barrage of ideas about how we could correct this situation, and how, if we got caught, terrible things would happen; the police and even the FBI might get involved.

By this time, I was totally confused; this all seemed like total nonsense, but at the same time, the drama of it all had some appeal. I’m not sure how else to explain my willingness to go along with this man. All I knew was that there was an extra $54,000 in my checking account. The next direction was equally weird, but in some bizarre way, I had gotten “hooked;” I had become “brainwashed.”

Steve directed me to drive to my bank in Shelburne and withdraw $13,000 — in cash — and not to speak to anyone. I wasn’t to tell the people at the bank what I planned to do with the money, which was to wrap it up and send it off via UPS by overnight express.

Crazy enough, I did just that. The manager at the People’s Shelburne branch came out of his office to speak with me, saying that a withdrawal of such a large sum of cash was highly unusual and that he suspected I was being scammed. No, I told him, this was for a real estate deal, and it was all “above board.” I’m sure he knew I was lying, but after quizzing me a second time, he backed off.

I then took the money — an inch-thick packet of 130 hundred dollar bills, wrapped it up carefully and sent off via overnight, UPS express, for $95, to a Mr. F. Moon in Jamaica, New York. But not before photographing the UPS package label with its tracking number, which I sent off to “Steve,” as he directed me to do. Mission accomplished.

After a few errands, I returned home for the evening, where I mulled over my last two or three hours, thinking how very weird it all was. Very quickly, I recognized that this had to be a scam, even though “Steve” seemed so intelligent and so nice.

Around 2-3 a.m., too anxious to sleep, I got on my computer and checked my checking account at People’s where there was indeed a deposit for $54,300. I then looked up the websites of the UPS and the Vermont State Police. The UPS package was promised by noon the next day, so it seemed likely that I could cancel the delivery to Moon. I called UPS, and the night owl who answered their phone said the shipment could only be canceled from the office from which the package was picked up.

I had to wait until 9 a.m. to call the Copy Ship Fax Plus office on Shelburne Road. I told the owner my story and asked him to cancel the UPS delivery. He said he’d do that right away. I also called the state police and spoke with a sergeant who told me that this kind of thing happened way too frequently, and no, his office could not help me catch these people as there are just too many of them.

A mere 15 minutes after I spoke with Copy Ship Fax Plus, “Steve” called me to ask what happened: he’d been notified by UPS that the shipment had been canceled.

“Oh! You made such a mistake,’ he whined. “Now I am surely going to lose my job!”

That argument worked yesterday, but not today. I could not be persuaded; and in a few moments, he hung up.

Ten minutes later, the Copy Ship Fax Plus owner called to say that someone pretending to be me had called him and demanded that he reverse the order and cancel the cancelation.

Now I knew for sure that this was a scam … how could I have been so dense? In a final phone call, the owner said that the delivery of my package had been canceled, it might take a week before the package was returned to his shop and that he’d let me know right away.

After the weekend, I returned to a People’s bank where the teller immediately saw that there was no mistaken deposit; rather, “Steve,” using the program that he’d installed into my computer, had transferred funds from my own savings account into the checking account.

So, the entire situation was a sham. Wow, did I feel stupid! And gullible.

I returned to my car, understanding suddenly why “Steve” had stopped calling after about 50 calls.

A day later, Copy Ship Fax Plus called to say that UPS had returned the package, and that it was intact. So, I hurried to pick it up and heard more stories from the owner about other scams he’s dealt with. Of course, I thanked him many times over.

My next stop was to People’s bank with the cash to deposit back into my account. Every dollar was accounted for.

My next task will be to change all my passwords, bank account and credit card numbers; then hope I can put this behind me. I am very grateful to have recovered my money — thanks to help of so many people. My only losses were the UPS fees to send the package overnight to New York City and retrieve it the next day and a bit to my self-esteem.

This has been a hugely humbling experience. A story I’m not even sure I should share with others — as most readers will think: “How could she have been so gullible?”

I have no idea why or how I let this happen. I am determined that nothing like this will ever happen to me again, though I’ve had a flurry of similar emails since then, now that I’ve been identified as gullible by some people. If my story warns others of this danger, then the writing is definitely worthwhile.

Read, When computer tech support is a scam and helpful tips to avoid them.