Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scamaphobia


Time was, you had to meet someone face to face to be scammed. Then con-men discovered mail, and the telephone, and email and their job became easier and easier until you could find yourself sat on your sofa watching Homes Under the Hammer, content in the knowledge that you had a hefty sum nestling in your bank while, unbeknownst to you, someone from the other side of the world was transferring your money from your account into his.

"Hell-o, Mr. Harling's Bank. This is Mr. Harling. I should like you take all
money from my accounts and place them in Cayman Island account, yes?
Oh, certainly, I am Mr. Harling. I do not pretending to be him.
Money is sent? Спасибо, I mean, thank you.
This has led me to develop a simple, but hard and fast rule: if anyone approaches me—via phone, mail, email, at my door or on the street—that I do not know as a friend or who is not responding to a request for assistance or sustenance, that person is, de facto, a criminal with the intent of pulling money out of my pocket and sticking it in his.

That this rule has led me to hanging up on actual utility companies and, in one memorable occasion, a hospital calling to tell me my father-in-law was being discharged and needed a ride home, is unfortunate, but I still believe it is better to err on the side of caution. I never click on links in an email and I routinely hang up on unknown callers.

But, while phone calls and extraneous emails remain a nuisance, they are easily dealt with, What I really fear is being scammed while I’m not looking. Fortunately, this has never happened. Until the other day.

I was doing the monthly updates of our accounts and noticed a fee of £98.83 taken from my bank account by a company I had never heard of. This didn’t alarm me at first. I often forget that I have bought something, but a Google search generally jogs my memory, allowing me to recall a holiday purchase from a little store in the Highlands a month or two back who have finally gotten around to taking their money. In this instance, however, the search only served to heighten my suspicion.

It was a loan company, the type catering to recently released felons and/or people with a bankruptcy looming in their background. Additionally, I found a thread on a message board about this company having taken a hundred quid from someone’s account in similarly suspicious circumstances. They were not only a dodgy loan company, they had form, so I went down to my bank, explained the situation and they, quite helpfully, canceled the direct debit, refunded my money and began an investigation.

Later that day, after finishing the household accounts, I noticed, with extreme unease, that we had more money than I thought we should. Having less doesn’t surprise, or unsettle me. But more? There was clearly something wrong. After some careful searching, I realized that a very expensive purchase I made some months back had never been deducted from my account. I wondered about this, and why I had no paperwork. Surely something that expensive would generate paperwork.

It took a while, but I finally tracked down an e-mail that jogged my memory. Something I had received and filed without thought weeks earlier: the sum I owed the company was being taken in installments, which explained why I had not seen a drop in our bank balance. Additionally, the installments had been converted to a no-interest loan by the company, and turned over to…a loan company.

In a panic, I contacted my bank, only to be told that, as the investigation process had started, there was no way they could stop it. They suggested I call the loan company, which I did, with great trepidation. I imagined they would not be pleased at my having taken the money back, and might say something like, “You took your money back? That’s okay, Vinny will be around to collect it. You’ll recognize him. He’ll be carrying a cricket bat in one hand, and a cash box in the other. You’ll become acquainted with one of them. Your choice.”

"Good morning, Mr. Harling. We can do this the easy way,
or the hard way."
The loan company, however, was cordial, and understanding, “Oh don’t worry about it,” the woman chirped, “It happens all the time.” Which only served to confirm what type of loan company they were.

Long story short (too late) everything was eventually straightened out, they got their money, the bank has been mollified, all future payments should go ahead without a hitch, and Vinny never paid me a visit.

But I’m still going to be cautious when answering the door for the next few weeks.