The automated caller informed me that there had been suspicious activity on my bank account: “Press 1 to be connected to a federal agent.”
There was nothing right about it from the beginning. Because I know that so many people have been victimized, I decided to learn what I could about the experience. I pressed 1.
Speaking in heavily accented English, a female “agent” identified herself as “Gracie Williams” and offered a “federal badge number”. She said: “You are under suspicion for narcotics money laundering. There were several transfers from your accounts to Colombia, totaling almost $200,000 over the past few days.
“The enforcement arm of the Federal Reserve Bank, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Treasury Department, and the Attorney General are all working together in a joint investigation, and we may need to come to your house in 45 minutes to arrest you unless you cooperate fully.
“You are speaking on a recorded line and all of the federal agencies are listening. It is very important that you be truthful. It is also very important that you speak to no one about this investigation.”
Under questioning, I gave the “agent” a false name, date of birth, nearby zip code, and last four of social security.
She purported to look the information up and reported that 18 bank accounts had recently been opened in the false name. She named several major banks. She detailed specific transfers to Colombia and asked me if I was certain that I knew nothing about them. “Have you ever been to Colombia? Do you know anyone in Colombia? Are you sure?”
She warned me of the gravity of the situation and warned me to speak to no one about it. I found myself afraid even though I knew it was all a sham.
I played along through progressively more detailed interrogations by several other “agents.” I realized that I was being vetted.
Finally, having satisfied themselves that I had money in the bank, was alone, and was trusting enough to fall for their story, they told me that regrettably, my bank accounts had to be frozen.
I protested my innocence. They told me that another agent would call me back.
Officer “Marcus McCoy” called back. He reassured me that they trusted me and appreciated my cooperation. I was a good person. He would help me.
Then he went in for the kill. To protect my funds, my funds needed to be transferred to a “safety locker.” He would stay on the line with me while I travelled to the bank and got a cashier’s check for $205,579. They left me something to get by on – that amount was only 80% of what I had told them I had.
“We will be watching on the bank video cameras to make sure the criminal is not following you. Do not speak to the teller about why you need the check. You have not spoken to anyone about this, correct?”
I went through the motions of getting into my car and going to the bank in a way that was sufficiently convincing that he then gave me an actual person’s name and physical address to mail the check to. Still under his direction on the phone, I went to the UPS store and overnighted an envelope (with no check) to that person.
The next morning “Agent McCoy” called and started to explain that I was in serious trouble for sending an empty envelope. At that point, I berated him and ended the game.
I thought again and again about how hurtful their game could be to vulnerable people. They implied that they knew my every move and sought to isolate me from family or friends who might talk me out of my folly. Their legal threats were all ridiculous, but they made the threats so forcefully that I found my heart pounding.
Belmont law enforcement was very responsive, but they didn’t get much cooperation from Florida law enforcement in following up at the physical address that I sent the letter to. There is so much of this going on that law enforcement’s ability to help is limited.
By sharing stories, we may help others avoid the traps.
Energy bill scams. A constituent from Watertown shared a story about people going door to door asking to see energy bills. This is a known issue, although not always an outright scam. More hear on the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog.