Frances Lee McCain was very busy in early January, directing a play at the Albuquerque Little Theater and trying to deal with a postponed opening because a cast member had just come down with COVID.
The longtime actress, whose credits include “Back to the Future” and “Better Call Saul,” was busy and distracted. And that, she says, made her especially vulnerable to what happened next: A scammer struck in an especially devious way, leaving her with a loss of tens of thousands of dollars and a fear she might be losing her marbles.
Being “a person of a certain age, I’m thinking ‘Is this one of those telltale signs? Am I losing my grip?’ ” says McCain, who is 78. “It’s a deep, violating shock. It makes you feel terribly vulnerable and exposed.”
But her experience shows that, at a vulnerable moment, anyone can become a victim.
The fraud unfolded when McCain received a text about a supposed Zelle transfer from her Wells Fargo savings account. It contained a link with a phone number to call if she was not the one making the transfer.
She was not, so she immediately called the number, which was supposedly for the bank’s fraud department. It looked legitimate, she says, because it matched the number on the back of her Wells card. When she was put on hold, she opted to just click the link in the text and she felt safe doing so because of the matching numbers.
Big mistake. A bad guy named “Jason Adams” walked her through wiring money from her Wells savings account to an account at JP Morgan Chase, for which he gave her the routing number. The transfer was meant somehow to protect her money and she was promised that the funds would be back in her Wells account within 48 hours.
But it took nowhere near that long for McCain to get a “bad feeling,” so she called Wells Fargo the next day to report the incident and try to get her money returned.
She has had no luck. While Wells Fargo agreed it was a scam, the bank told her there was nothing it could do. Since the money was wired, the bank said, JP Morgan could not return the funds without permission from the Morgan account holder.
Wells said “we strongly encourage you” to contact the account holder. In this case, McCain says, that would be bad-guy Jason, who undoubtedly had taken the money and run.
Jim Seitz, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said the bank does not comment on customers, nor on its internal fraud investigations, but he sent this statement: “We never want to see anyone become a victim of a scam and are actively working to raise awareness of common scams to help prevent these incidents.”
He pointed out that wire transfers are an “immediate form of payment” that go directly into someone’s account “and are typically irreversible, even if fraud is involved.”
A spokeswoman for JP Morgan also would not comment on specific cases.
McCain’s advice is to “never, never, never click on a link that is texted to you. They tell you this all the time, and I knew it.”
And that leads to her second piece of advice. Even if a given number matches one you recognize, don’t necessarily trust the sender. Numbers can be spoofed by savvy scammers. Instead, look at the number from which the text is coming rather than the one included in the body of the message.
Above all, she says, talk to others about what happened and avoid any sense of shame. “Tell your friends and family,” she says. “Keep talking. Don’t isolate with the fear and shame. Some scams are more devastating than others. Those profoundly impacted financially will certainly be in need of more help, but normalizing the experience can begin to help.”
Ellen Marks at email@example.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, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.asp.