Be A Lert

A cautionary tale for you.

I tend to think of myself as being intelligent. After all, the last time I had my IQ tested it qualified me to join Mensa, I have a masters degree, and am generally quick on the uptake. But two weeks ago something happened that made me realise that anyone can do something really stupid. And I did. I allowed myself to become the victim of one of those scam artists we all read so much about. I used to think “that will never happen to me,” but I’m the living proof that it can, even if we think we are taking every precaution to protect ourselves online. So read and learn!

I received a text message which began with the same greeting that most of the messages I get from either of my daughters begin. It was from a number I didn’t know, but it said that ‘she’ had a new number and could I use it to reset our WhatsApp connection. You’d have thought that this coming from an unknown number would have been enough of a clue, wouldn’t you, but it wasn’t and I fell for it. I didn’t even ask any basic “who is this” questions to prove identity which, looking back, seems such an obvious thing that I should have done. The conversation continued and ‘she’ told me that because she had a new number her bank wouldn’t be recognising her account for another couple of days, and she had a large invoice that was due to be paid. Could I help, and she would repay me as soon as her account was sorted. It was a four figure sum but as she got married a few months ago and I knew she had recently had her wedding photos back this didn’t seem that unlikely: weddings are expensive events, and photographers don’t come cheap! Long story short, but I eventually got the payment through, and it was only then that something about the words used in one of ‘her’ messages raised a doubt – the English was bit strange. I asked a question I should have asked much sooner, and got no reply. I then checked with my ex-wife and both of my daughters, and of course she didn’t have a new phone and number, did she!

I then reached for the phone and called my bank. After a fifty minute wait in the queue – there are a lot of victims around – I got through and explained to a very pleasant young man called Robert why I was calling. He went through all of the basics with me about what had happened, and then transferred me to the specialist department for this, telling me along the way that this was the fourth such call he had taken that day! I then spent the best part of an hour with an amazing young woman called Nicola, who had the broadest Northern Irish accent you can imagine and a wonderful sense of humour. Even though I was deep in the financial doo-doo she somehow made me feel a little less stupid and angry with myself. Having taken all of the details she needed she then read me all the warnings that as I had contributed to my own downfall the bank was very unlikely to offer me compensation. In other words, I was the one who would be paying for the expensive lesson I had just received, and for my own stupidity. I had to accept that this was fair, though it didn’t cheer me up! Nicola also advised me to report the event to something called Action Fraud. This turned out to be an online crime reporting system, run by the City Of London police force. She gave me a direct number for future contact, to save the need for the fifty minute wait, and we said our goodbyes.

The next day dawned, to messages from both of my daughters asking how I was. The answers were along the lines of ‘feeling stupid and angry with myself.’ I had started the Action Fraud process the previous evening but as it was by then around 9pm I had decided to save the case and return to it the next day, as I was feeling exhausted. I duly submitted my report, and was allocated a crime case number for my efforts. It can only have been around ten minutes before I received a return email, which contained a letter telling me that they could take no further action as this wasn’t the type of case that the Home Office counted as part of its crime statistics. Given how much these have grown over the years this seemed to me a dubious way of keeping the numbers down and making Plod look better, but I was hardly in a position to effect any change, was I? I was pondering what else I could do, and was beginning to think of how I might word a pleading letter for when the bank had completed its investigations and confirmed that my money had disappeared into thin air. I even considered writing to the Home Secretary – after all, that Suella Braverman seems such a nice, caring sort of person, doesn’t she?

The next thing to happen was that I received a text message from my bank at around 1.15pm. I opened it up, fearing the worst, but to my delight and amazement it informed me that they had completed their investigation and had made a full refund to my account. I immediately went online to check the account, and sure enough the money was back in there. Several text messages to the family later, I began to realise how much I had worried them and how lucky I was for such an outcome.

I had intended to ring the number Nicola had given me, in the hope of finding her on duty at around the same time we had spoken the previous evening, so that I could thank her, but I didn’t need to: she rang me as soon as her shift started just to check that I knew the outcome. Of course I did! She explained that I had been incredibly lucky in that I had fallen victim to scammers who were too lazy or stupid to follow the usual pattern of moving the money on straightaway, and had even used an account with the same bank, which made it easy for the bank to locate the cash and reunite it with its owner. Nicola sounded a lovely person on the phone, and her pleasure in the outcome felt truly genuine – almost as great as mine!

So, I had an amazingly lucky escape, and don’t need to find my way to any food banks just yet. Then again, watch this space, as the government will shortly be making its Autumn Statement, which will tell us how much more we will all be paying to make up for their errors, incompetence and mismanagement. At least I’ll be facing the extra costs with the real bank balance I thought I had, though! But I have learned a lesson from all of this. Being the person in our family who is usually the first to see one of these frauds and warn the others didn’t make me immune to falling for one. Pride comes before a fall, they say, and I came very close to that. I will now be doubly careful, and even more suspicious than I thought I was before: I now count myself as a better qualified ‘Lert.’ The lesson I am sharing with you in telling this story is a simple one: don’t assume that you are too smart to fall victim to a scam, as it can happen to the best of us. No matter how smart we think we are, remember…