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Gone phishing: I thought I was too smart to be scammed. I was wrong | National Post

Ransomware BCyber todayJanuary 23, 2020 13

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I almost fell for it.

My friend Jean, who generously invites me to family dinners several times a year, usually the only time I see her, reached out for help. Her email wasn’t florid, simply asked how I was doing and could I do her a “little favour” that evening or next morning? Of course, I could.

At the moment, I was headed out the door. I assured her by return email I’d happy to help. If it was an editing thing, I’d fit that in later. What exactly do you need? I asked.

So sorry to bother you, she apologized. I’d expected something simple but this involved a gift for her niece, whose birthday it was. Jean had wanted to surprise her with Google Play gift cards. She’d tried and failed to purchase them online. She was sad she couldn’t deal with this herself, but was in North Bay attending the funeral of a close friend. Poor you, I thought. Jean had been gutted when her husband died two years earlier. Now this. Life was so damn unfair.

I assured her by return email I’d happy to help

Kindly let me know if you can pick these up for me, she wrote. The word ‘kindly” made me smile. Trust Jean to use that word. Always so polite. Pay you back ASAP, she promised.

I’m sorry about your loss, I said, attempting comfort, words failing. I’ll have the cards by noon latest. Truth is I was panicking because things techno freak me out. I know nothing of gift cards, not having kids. It was Black Friday Eve. Imagine the horror of lining up at Best Buy?

I called a friend, also childless, who’d also never heard of Google Play cards. He googled and discovered Shoppers Drug Mart sold them. Whew! I had one just around the corner.

Jean hadn’t told me the amount. What’s your price range? I queried, again by email. Details, please!

She replied instantly. Buy four cards at $50 each, so $200. (Wow, spoiled niece! was my immediate thought. By niece, Jean must mean her sister-in-law’s daughter? I couldn’t remember a niece, but hey, I have a goddaughter who’s not official). Scratch the back, take a picture of the pin numbers and I’ll forward to her email, she said, easily.

If I can get them at Shoppers, no problem, I answered. If I can’t, for some reason, give your niece a lovely e-card and tell her the gift is on its way. She’ll totally understand! You have enough on your plate. I added, with a wink: Doesn’t this sound like a scam involving a Nigerian prince? LOL.

LOL, she responded back. Once again, Thanks!

“Don’t click on that:” The Ontario Provincial Police issued an online fraud warning ahead of the holidays. But we civilians think we’re so smart. I never believed for a moment I was going to jail for defrauding the government, even as the threatening calls kept coming. I never click on suspect links. As a former journalist (albeit with a career-threatening soft spot) I believed I could never be exploited. And yet, the fraudsters grow more sophisticated. This Google Play scam is an evolutionary leap in nuance.

Using the combo of my friend, a recent widow, and me, hastily eager to help, and a busy holiday world, it was perfect. Perhaps the fraudsters lucked out, didn’t know how clever they were. There were clues I’d made excuses for. The niece for example. But Jean’s email address was correct, the spelling was fine and the circumstances were plausible. No red flags. Why didn’t I simply pick up the phone and call her, you wonder? Because I was rushing, it was easier and more efficient to carry on online. Besides, why would I doubt a friend?

Why would I doubt a friend?

Next morning, I was at Shoppers. Thinking the cards would be with the lotto tickets under glass, I inquired at the cash. The cashier escorted me to a display rack where the mystery cards dangled expensively, along with countless other varieties. How many, she asked? Four times $50 I said. They’re for a friend. A friend? You sure? she asked. No, you don’t understand, I said. I know this person. She’s wonderful. It’s all fine.

Back at the checkout, my credit card already in the machine, I caught a final eye roll from the cashier. There are no refunds, she said. Really? That gave me pause.

Only then did I question the niece and North Bay and the newly deceased friend I hadn’t known about. Embarrassed, I withdrew my card and said, let me check. She cancelled the transaction. She didn’t complain.

That cashier is my hero

That cashier is my hero. I will commend her to her manager. I came home and called Jean. She’d just heard from others about the scam and was appalled. She offered to reimburse me. No need, I said, relieved.

What do these fraudsters do with the pin numbers, I wondered? Do they turn around and flip $200 gift cards for $150? I ’d stumbled into a Scorsese criminal underworld I didn’t have a clue about.

Jean’s real sister-in-law, a smart cookie in her sixties who lives in Manitoba, wasn’t as lucky. She kept her card in the machine. She’s lighter by $200.

This content was originally published here.

Written by: BCyber

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