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Victim felt scammer had ‘a gun to my head’

The nightmare for the 77-year-old Albuquerque woman began when she got an email message, supposedly from the Geek Squad, telling her that her subscription had been renewed and her account had been charged $149.99.

It ended after she was left sobbing in a Target parking lot, with $2,000 drained from her life’s savings.

What made the scam seem real was that the woman did have a subscription to the Geek Squad and had recently tried to contact the tech services business for help with her computer.

But the $149.99 cited in the email was much higher than the woman usually paid, so she tapped on the phone number listed so she could cancel the order.

That set off a chain of events that felt like the scammers had kidnapped the woman’s phone, bank accounts and computer – what she called a frighteningly “big mess.”

“I feel like I still have PTSD,” she said.

The caller instructed her to go to her computer. On the screen were displayed her bank accounts, all showing a balance of zero.

The bogus Geek Squad employee told her he was going to put enough money back into her checking account so she could purchase $2,000 worth of gift cards at Best Buy. He said if she did so, he would return the money she had had in her checking and savings accounts.

She used a debit card to comply, with the thief staying on the line the entire time. Her effort to simultaneously text her son for help came back with a “not delivered” response.

“I felt like I had a gun to my head,” she said.

After she read the scammer the gift card numbers, he delivered his next instructions: go to Target and get another $500 worth of gift cards. Worried about her life’s savings, she drove to Target but – lucky for her – her debit card was rejected. The woman went to her car and broke down as the man on the phone continued to threaten her.

She had tried hanging up on him, but he was still there. However, she did have the presence of mind to give another driver in the parking lot her son’s number, and the driver texted him. The son advised his mother to turn off her phone and to go home and turn off her computer.

When she later went to the bank, she learned that the zero balances were not real, but the thieves had managed to transfer money from her savings account to her checking account, including amounts saved for a vacation and for a granddaughter’s graduation gift. The scammers did not actually access that money, she says.

She opened new accounts, and the real Geek Squad was able to fix her locked computer. She was out $2,000, and the trauma remains.

“I was waking up at 3 a.m., seeing that zero,” she said. “I’m so embarrassed. I have not told anyone but a couple of people, because you don’t want to say, ‘I was stupid.'”

The lesson, she says, is to not answer or to hang up when someone unfamiliar calls. Instead, contact the real vendor to check things out. Also, never click on a link provided in a suspicious email or text.

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The pandemic we’re experiencing has brought tough times to many, and scammers are aiming to make a buck off the misery.

One of the latest examples is a phone call offering credit lines with low interest rates, according to the national Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org.

The tricky thing is that the calls begin with a recording stolen from a real bank and from a spoofed phone number that looks legitimate. A “live agent” joins the call after you pick up to explain the offer.

“However, before the caller gets their new credit line, they have to provide their credit card number and other credit card details,” the resource center says.”Stolen credit card information can lead to different forms of financial identity theft.”

The center advises not giving out personal information on an unsolicited call. Call the bank directly at the number on the bank’s website.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210​.

 

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