Thoughts by Richard Bleil
They got me. The scam is called “phishing”, and usually, I’ll catch it.
As my regular readers know, I’ve been going through something of a family drama of late. I’m guessing that threw me from my game because usually I’ll catch these pretty quickly, but this one got me. Before I go any further, no, I suffered no financial loss. Even when I’m not at my sharpest wit, I still have one cardinal rule that saved my bacon, which is good because I love bacon.
So, I’m going to tell you the whole story, including the red flags that I missed (and caught). Hopefully, you’ll catch something that is new. I will tell you the biggest mistake I made as well.
The start came from logging onto the college email for the first time in a week or two. There is an email from the college president asking if I could do an important favor for her. This was the first red flag, and yes, I caught it. I barely know the president, so it was suspicious in the first place that she should ask me, an adjunct professor, for any favor at all. I chatted with her once when we happened to be at adjacent tables in the cafeteria for lunch and she invited me to join her, but we certainly aren’t close enough that she would have asked me for an “important favor”. However, with the Covid-19 chaos and classes starting in a couple of weeks, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, she was taking a casual approach to something like asking me to get a checkup or some such thing. So, I responded.
Before I continue with the story, here’s the red flag that I missed. The email did have her name, but what I missed is that the email address itself was not from the college. If she had college business, she would have used her college email address. That one is on me.
So, I replied (by clicking “reply” rather than sending it to her college email…my bad) apologizing for the delay and saying that I was sure she’s already taken care of it. She responded and asked for my cell phone so she can text. I had my suspicions, but, yes, I had convinced myself that there is a chance she was actually the college president, so, another mistake, I gave her (probably actually “him”) my cell phone number.
She said she still needed the favor and can’t do it because she is stuck in a meeting. Here’s another red flag that I did catch, a meeting for the past week? But, to be fair, I’ve been stuck in meetings that seemed to drag on for weeks. She said she needed me to pick up some cards, and she would reimburse me for the cost.
I’m all over that. I am assuming it’s some kind of congratulatory cards, birthday cards, something, so I asked her what the occasion is. That’s when the scam crossed the line.
“She” informed me that the kind of cards she meant were eBay gift cards, five of them for $100 each. Just buy them and she’ll pay me back.
Yeah, no, I don’t think so.
This is the cardinal rule that saved the bacon that I later fried up and ate. I love eating bacon. I’ll get thick cut and eat a pound at a time. But that has nothing to do with this.
When money is involved, I don’t go there. So, I thought I’d check to be sure it was really her. Unfortunately, and kind of humorously, I clicked “reply” to the original email and asked if this is really from her. Ugh, what an idiot. “She” texted immediately after asking if I just sent her an email asking if it is really her. I apologized saying, “oops, sent it to the wrong address”, then forwarded the original email to the president using her correct CSM email address asking if it was really from her, and suggesting that if not, it should be sent on to computing services for appropriate action. Long story short, no, she did not send it.
The con works like this. Had I actually purchased the gift cards, the last step would be to convince me to provide the numbers off of the back of the card, no doubt so “she” could give them to the intended recipients and reimburse me later. Of course, I didn’t buy the cards, so too bad.
But the BIGGEST mistake I made was, once realizing that it was a con, not continuing to play along. I guess it would have failed because I tried to verify by hitting “reply” rather than “forward”, but yes, I would have enjoyed getting them all excited about their success only to pull the rug out at the last possible moment. Several years ago, in an era where people still had house phones, I received a call and, on answering, the caller said, “May I speak to the lady of the house, please?” “Sure,” I replied, and put the phone down by my female dog’s kennel saying to her “it’s for you,” and walked away. Eventually I checked on him, picking up to phone and asking if he’s still holding. When he assured me he is and tried to say something, I cut him off saying, “I’m sure she’ll be with you soon,” putting the phone back down for Bella. The second time I checked he was gone. Kinda broke my heart, honestly.