“Why didn’t you stop me?” the woman asked the banker.
“I tried.” He reminded her of the questions asked when she withdrew $5,000 cash from her account. She had answered the questions confidently, packaged the cash and mailed it to a new online “friend” in another state. After a few online conversations, she felt connected and wanted to respond when asked to help out in a pinch. “You can help? Oh man! That would be so great. Can you send me cash in the mail?”
She could, and she did. Only after dropping the package in the mail did she question anything. Too late. The package went to an empty lot in a state far away.
Tricked, hurt and stung, the customer, asked “Why didn’t you stop me?”
The banker had done his due diligence. But, it was her account, her money and she had, after all, answered the questions confidently. Since then, if she withdraws a couple thousand or so, he asks, “Is everything okay?”
As a banker, he has seen it happen all too often to folks of every age.
A young adult found a part time job on Craigslist. They applied and were accepted. The employer wanted help with an out-of-state move into the area. He wanted a local person to deal with the details of moving into a rental. He sent the new employee a couple thousand to make the payments. Only the check wasn’t from a funded account. She got the check, and he needed $500 back for some reason. The shadowy, Craigslist “employer,” says, “Send me that $500 electronically,” which means “immediately.”
“Since the ‘employer’ did not send a valid check, the target sent back $500 of their own money. The check they deposited did not clear the bank. Sometimes they want you to send a money order or to buy a gift card and read them the numbers. The Craigslist fraudster will immediately go and spend the card.”
Young people get fooled. Middle-aged folks are tricked. And sadly the elderly, especially the lonely, and those with declining mental health get scammed.
The banker said, “We had one woman come in who had sent $10,000 in cash to another state. She had a healthy account. The voice on the other end of the phone said the IRS was after her because she owed money. They would be coming to arrest her if she didn’t respond immediately.
“They told her to get cash, wrap it in several sheets of paper and send the $10,000 in an envelope from the post office. ‘If you don’t you will be arrested,’ they said to scare her.”
“They usually have a foreign accent,” the banker shook his head. “People need to remember, the IRS will ALWAYS mail you notices. The IRS will NEVER call. Unfortunately, the customer believed the caller. She went to the bank, got the $10,000 in cash and mailed it. Only then did the elderly woman mention it to her son. He called the post office in the recipient’s city. That post master general found the envelope before it was delivered, verified it was hers and returned it to the sender. The family member asked that a block be put on her account to stop her from being able to do that again.”
Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation at a bank, at risk of being scammed. The questions may feel annoyingly nosy or unnecessary, but, if asked, stop and consider the urgency for the large amount of cash or the request to return a portion of the money sent to you. If the banker asks, remember he or she is simply trying to keep you and your money safe. Thank them for their concern, be glad they noticed and review the situation with others before sending anything.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”