Joan Bittner Fry
On a Saturday in mid-March, I opened an email from Amazon.com. Since I had recently placed an order for less than $25.00 (my first directly to Amazon), I opened it. To my surprise, it was an order confirmation for $4,961.12 for one Sony television with an extended warranty and one Microsoft Xbox console, also with an extended warranty.
There was an Amazon logo at the top and an order number. Authentic, I thought. There was a statement: “If you have not placed this order, call our Fraud Protection Team at 1-425-620-3786.” Foolishly, I did so. I was directed to three different people, and ended up with Supervisor Max. He was sympathetic and seemed very believable, because by this time, I wanted him to be. He went through some details, and he said he could see the charges on Amazon. He assured me that he and his colleagues could fix it.
After a lot of chatter, I was requested to buy three gift cards in the amount of $200 each. I also fell for that. I went to Thurmont to make this purchase. Max wanted to keep me on the cell phone while in the store, but I was directed not to speak to him until I got back to my car. By the time I returned to my car, my cell phone had run out of power. Max probably became desperate, thinking that I might have had enough time to think more clearly—which I had.
Upon returning home, I called Amazon, and they put me in touch with their fraudulent activities division. I was directed to a business who would solve my problem and spent the next hour on the phone with them. Although I was at their mercy, I felt I had to trust someone. Later, when I looked at the company online, they are supposedly one of the most trusted technical solution providers in the country. I’m still praying that this is the case.
After the problem was fixed, there were more than 30 missed calls lined up on my home phone—all from Max. When I finally answered, his first question was, “Did you get the cards?” I replied “No,” and hung up. He did not call again.
On the following Monday, I opened my seldom-used cell phone and saw more than 18 missed messages from Saturday—all from Max, who was desperately pleading that I return his call the minute I got it. I’m still thankful for that trip to Thurmont and a dead cell phone that allowed me time to think.
I was a victim of phishing. I never thought the message wasn’t legitimate because of my recent purchase from Amazon. Ironically, page 23 of the latest issue of the AARP Bulletin reports under “Ask the Fraud Team” a story of a person who also got an email from someone claiming to be with Amazon, who said items had been charged to their account. This person ended up giving them their credit card number to reverse the charges.
The advice given by AARP was to contact the credit card company immediately and have them look into the account and put a flag on any suspicious charges. It goes on to say that you can easily verify activity on your online accounts, either by calling customer service or by logging in online and reviewing your recent activity.
I am writing this article to implore anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to not blame themselves. Identity theft is a serious threat to all of us. If we hide it, we are helping the thieves. It can and did happen to me.