Smart About Money: If a stranger asks you to be a “Secret Agent” …

Nick Maffeo

Massachusetts bankers recently heard about a scam that cost an individual in a nearby state $25,000. Unfortunately, this is a financial and emotional disaster that did not need to happen.

Here’s how it started: One morning, a person got a call from “Google.” Right there, red alerts should have been ringing. The real Google isn’t calling you.

The caller “from Google” – actually a scammer – said they were working “on behalf of a local bank” to uncover ongoing fraud being committed by the bank’s employees.

Okay – another major red flag! If a bank was concerned about any kind of employee fraud, they’re not going to reach out to Google for help to get to the bottom of it. That’s not how things work.

The “Google” caller/scammer told this person their help was needed to catch the employees committing the fraud at the bank. Basically, the scammer was asking them to become an undercover secret agent.

(At this point, everyone who hears this story says the same thing: “Oh, no!”)

If stranger calls and says they need you to become a “secret agent” to help uncover fraud, that is a scam. No genuine business or government/law enforcement agency will ever approach civilians out-of-the-blue to become crime-fighters.

While this person was not cognitively impaired, they quickly became confused and frightened. Which is very common. Scammers strike out a lot. When they get someone on the phone, they move fast and try to get you to react without thinking.

Believing they were helping, this person let the caller/scammer from “Google” take control of their computer and access their online banking. The scammer said some money was missing from their account and they would help get it back.

(In fact, it appears that the scammer temporarily manipulated what appeared on the victim’s computer screen, so it looked like money was missing from their bank account – when actually it wasn’t.)

It gets worse. The scammer directed this person to go to their bank, withdraw a large sum and buy gift cards, then call “Google” with the gift card numbers and their money would be safe.

The sick “added twist” was that the scammer said to not trust anyone at the bank – because they weren’t sure which bank employees were “involved in the fraud.”

Because of the scammer’s lies and believing that none of the bank’s employees could be trusted, this individual made the large cash withdrawal (over the bank’s repeated warnings), bought the gift cards and gave the scammers the gift card numbers. Their money was not safe. In fact, it was gone. A truly sad story.

Right now, there are more and more scams out there. Which is why it’s absolutely essential that you prepare yourself, your family and friends to avoid becoming victims.

Two take-aways from this genuinely terrible and upsetting scam scenario:
1) When a stranger contacts you with a complicated, frightening or odd story, break contact. Take a breath. Call the company or bank involved on a number you get from a bill, a statement or on their official web site. If you’re worried you can’t trust anyone at the company mentioned or (as with Google) there is no practical way to reach them, call or go talk to your local police immediately.
2) Any stranger requesting or demanding gift cards is always a scammer. Always. Always. Always.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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