Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is RCox@cherryroad.com.


‘The rest of the story …’

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Back in December, I shared my experience in dealing with an online scammer who decided I was ripe for picking. That was only the beginning.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, it’s time for “the rest of the story.”

For those of you who missed out, I was randomly contacted by someone using the hacked account of an elderly female — a former neighbor — and was informed that I qualified for a $65,000 “cash prize” from the Department of Health and Human Services. The only thing preventing me from claiming my prize was a $1,300 fee to cover taxes and fees.

I strung that person along for about four hours before I lost them — or so I thought — after informing them I didn’t have that much money in U.S. currency, and inquired as to how much the fee would be in Canadian money.

Keep in mind that, despite the fact that the messenger account in use was directly linked to my profile, I’d managed to convince the scammer that I was a 76-year-old retiree and widower who didn’t own a cellphone or know how to send a text message (which, according to the scammer, was the only way to contact the “agent” handling the application process).

Apparently, my request concerning Canadian money didn’t faze the scammer at all. He (or she, I won’t presume) came back the next day.

“Are you ready to claim your prize now and pay the necessary fees so FedEx can schedule your prize delivery as soon as possible?”

I pressed ahead with my foreign money angle.

“I have to change my money to USD, though. Do you know much it is in Canadian dollars?

The scammer quickly responded, saying, “It should be about $1,740 CAD.”

Time for another twist.

“Oh. I don’t have that much Canadian, but I have some AUS as well. How much USD is 500 AUS? This would be so much easier if you just got the agent to call. I’m sure he’d know.”

I’d been encouraging the scammer to get the so-called agent to call for some time. The phone number I’d given was for the police department.

“$500 AUS is about $360 USD,” the scammer quickly replied. “The agent doesn’t call but text.”

“That makes no sense. Why can’t the government make phone calls? Is there a shutdown?” I asked. “The last president was always on his phone.”

I pressed again, seeing if I could confuse them — “So all I need to send is $360?” — but it didn’t work.

“No the payment you have to make is $1300 USD, according to what the agent said.”

I wasn’t ready to give up on the Australian connection, and I also decided to escalate a little more.

“Look, just bring the paperwork with you tomorrow. We’ll sort it out over coffee. I have the $360 AUS. I’ll have to bring some of it in yen. Maybe some pesos. We can make this happen. Meet me at the coffee shop.”

I thought surely I’d chased the scammer off, but no ... he wasn’t done yet.

“I have prior commitments in the morning so I can’t meet at the coffee shop. What do you want me to tell the agent?”

I pushed a bit harder.

“You know good and well you don’t have any prior commitments,” I wrote. “Why are you avoiding me? Are you seeing that man again, the one I warned you about? You better show up for coffee. I don’t like carrying that many pesos.”

“I have to sleep now,” the scammer wrote.

The next morning, I got another message.

“The agent said, ‘Are you ready to pay your money? Are you there?”

I wrote back.

“You didn’t come to the coffee shop. I waited. For hours. I got mugged by a bunch of old white men in red hats. They took all my pesos. All they said was, ‘Mexico is going to pay for the wall, one way or another.’”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t show up at the coffee shop,” the scammer wrote. “I told you I had a prior commitment today. I told you that the agent can’t call you.”

Doubling down — maybe tripling, I’d lost count this point, I wrote, “I’ve got all my loonies, yen and some Deutsche marks I found ready to go. I’m still mad about the pesos. And stop lying. I drove by your house. Your car is there.”

“I’m not home Robert,” the scammer wrote. “And I’ve not been lying about anything.”

Long story short, I couldn’t shake this scammer for anything, even when I informed them that I changed all the Australian dollars I had into loonies so they’d match.

What finally broke the scammer? It wasn’t the money. It was something more important.

“The agent said, ‘Do you know any CVS store?”

I wrote back, for what turned out to be the last time.

“We don’t have those here.”

I never heard from him (or her) again.