An elderly friend living nearby was having trouble with her new iPad as she couldn’t get an internet connection for it (though her internet was otherwise working) and her family are her lifeline. So when a phone call came to say that her internet access was about to be cut off, her reaction was a sense of alarm.
That phone call was followed shortly after by another, purportedly from British Telecom, offering to help solve what the caller said was a technical problem. The story is told in her own words:
“The person on the line had an educated voice and was very polite and helpful. He explained that Sky, my internet provider, would be obliged to give me compensation for downtime and ‘unsatisfactory service.’ I was entitled to claim a rebate of £250. He offered to help obtain the payment and asked me first to make a test transaction of transferring £50 into my bank account.
“By this time I was so impressed with both the technical and the personal skills of the oh-so-wanting-to help-me scammer that I hesitantly obliged, and carefully followed the instructions given, signing into my bank account with my card reader and entering 50. I remember wondering whether to add a dot and two zeros, but think I decided not to.
“I was horrified to see on the screen that the figure of £50 had somehow become £5,000, credited to my account at Nationwide. Thinking that this was my mistake, I felt I had thieved Sky, but my ‘saviour’ was going to put things right. He had my bank details on his screen too, so he could help me, and so things continued with telephone and on screen exchanges for the better part of two full days.
“My questions accumulated as I slowly began to realise things shouldn’t be as they were, despite the reassurances of the person I couldn’t believe was a scammer – so patient, so likeable, so able to think of other ways to try to save me – I thought at one point I might invite him down to Rye!
“There was difficulty in returning the over-payment and he would lose his job if he didn’t succeed. He’d got an extension of the deadline, but this one was final. We reached the point where we were going to send back the overpayment allegedly to Sky via an Indian name (his English was so good he could pass for English).
“If questioned, I was to say he lived in London and I knew him personally via some means I was to invent e.g. a former colleague who had helped me wonderfully and was now needing help because of Covid-19 (The helper/scammer made several suggestions). I balked at this and said I didn’t want to lie … but he gave me reasons why it was in my interest to do so this once.
“I was running back and forth between my phone in the hall so it could keep charging. Batteries had run out and a complete recharge overnight had been needed. He was calling from a different number each time, and my computer was where we were using Notepad. He continued calmly and reassuringly — ‘Don’t worry, Ma’am …’
“The last messages on the screen repeatedly asked if I had been to the bank (to talk, as directed, to Nationwide security) and the very last two or three were beginning to sound desperate rather than reassuring and then there were over 30 attempts to reach me by phone (by different numbers).
“Belatedly I had accepted that my brilliant new friend was a scammer. And the excellent member of the anti-fraud team at Nationwide security, who asked me significant questions when I called, confirmed that he was, which is why the payment had not gone through.
“I was visited by two members of Sussex Police who came and took notes, but also admitted how hard it was to catch the scammers who were reaping fortunes they could not possibly ever achieve via honest means. They told me half the crime in the world is now online and there had been several instances in Rye recently.
“The saga ended with the excellent help of Matt Simpson (Matt’ll FixIT) who spent 4½ hours here to give me back the use of my computer. He recommended some videos to help prevention and recovery e.g. four episodes of Spying on the Scammers on YouTube by Jim Browning, who is on a mission to eliminate scammers.
“Later I just happened upon Dismantling a Scam also by Jim Browning, (and there are more). It runs through in step by step detail with commentary what is happening during the various ploys a scammer uses.
“The saddest thing about the misadventure was that the scammer was talented technically, with wide general knowledge, spoke English like a native, and has superior personal and social skills – so polite, respectful, calm, even empathetic etc etc – the kinds of intelligence and personality the selection panel in any big organisation would make them want to hire him. It took some time to convince myself he was using his skills as a baddie. What a waste!”
My own experience confirms the ingenuity and the persistence of the scammers. We have been plagued not only by the BT scam, but by one purporting to be from Amazon, threatening financial penalties unless the Amazon Prime account is renewed. There is an option to unsubscribe by pressing 1, but this only leads into deeper water and is to be avoided. We have had up to five calls a day all from different numbers and it seems nothing can stop them. See also other instances reported in Rye News.
Image Credits: Jean Christophe .