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May 26, 2024

Updated: Jun 16


This was one of the worst - and probably dumbest - scams of all time.

Certainly as experienced directly by me!

The adventure started out from the purest place of selflessness on my part.  We had a shareholder whose Amazon purchase of “scrubbing bubbles” ended up being tossed carelessly to the floor by the delivery guy; our security camera captured the actions perfectly.  I actually did some research in the hope that Amazon would possibly have insurance for such misadventures.  They’re a huge company, after all.  Why should our co-op, having experienced such financial struggles beyond comprehension these past few years, not be blessed with the $800 or so necessary to re-tile the badly damaged doors?

I was actually talking with our co-op board member Ellen about the plan to be reimbursed just moments earlier.  She thought I shouldn’t waste time on what was likely to be a lost cause, but I returned to my room and checked out the folder I’d created the past week.  There was a letter describing our plight, complete with the invoice numbers of the original package, two movies of  the original bit of action, and pictures listed in numerical order clearly showing the leaking chemicals leading directly to the trashed floor.  Anyone could see our case was undeniable.

And if I was ever going to move forward with this - what better time than this very afternoon?

I cemented my decision at around 1:30pm.  This was at least worthy of a quick hour-long attempt at justice!


*


Of course, anyone with any experience whatsoever with Amazon clearly knows the trouble one encounters when trying to talk to a human voice in their “contact us” section.  Just when you thought the virtual assistant was out of canned ideas and was going to send you in the right direction, the case would somehow slip back to the beginning stages of hopelessness.  Eventually I had what I thought was the amazingly great idea of googling “what is the best way to get a human to talk to you on Amazon?”  I was rewarded with several options.

I chose the first one.

This human was definitely of Indian descent, which seems to be the case in so many situations; in fact, almost all of the roofers we’ve been recently dealing with in NYC seem to come from the same neighborhood in Bangladesh.  This person talked slow and purposefully and appeared eager to get past his initial inability to understand what in the world I was talking about.

“You’re trying to get money for a damaged floor that isn’t in your own apartment?”

“How many tiles have been damaged - and what was their size?”

I had difficulty getting him to understand the name “Gene”, the shareholder who ordered the product initially.

Interestingly enough, this man with the heavy Indian accent reported to have the very American-sounding name of “Steve”.

But he did seem to think he might be able to help me out…


*


He eventually determined that our situation called for a remedy in the area of $730-$780 dollars, which was admirably close to the $800 I was seeking.  The problem was in getting the money to us.  I told him there was no hurry and we would easily settle for a check, but he seemed to believe there was a way for us to be compensated right away.

And now, my memory has already become hazy.  Because it’s hard to admit how ridiculously stupid I would prove myself to be these next couple of hours.


*


“I need to see if we can create a system where you make the initial deposit so we can refund and begin our payment plan.”  Or something like that…

He led me to a precise spot in google where we could purchase not the $20, $30 or $70 Xbox Gift cards (Digital Code) but specifically the $50 one.

I don’t know why…

He led me to the point where the next step would be for me to hit the side button twice, which means I’d be the one paying for the card.  Why on earth would I do that, I demanded!  But after spending so much time with me already, he seemed hurt at the insinuation that I believed I was about to be spending my own money.

“Sir!” he responded, curtly.  “I can assure you that is not the case!  We would of course refund you right away should anything go wrong - this is Amazon, after all!”  Then his tone softened.  “But we should be able to start paying for the compensation as soon as we get this started. We will move the money to your account, and as president of the co-op, you are assuredly trusted to use this money on behalf of your residents.”

It seemed crazy, but I ended up hitting the side buttons twice to pay for the damned thing.  When something appeared to go wrong, the gentleman from Amazon urged me to try once again.  For some reason, I was still quite confident of being reimbursed - but for now, I was already out one hundred dollars.


*


But the time had come to generate the promised income on our behalf.  There was to be three payments, he explained, starting with $240.  His boss would let him know if the other two might be higher, but we would start there.  He led me to an app on my phone where the money would eventually rest.  But instead of requesting payment, he insisted that I should be the one moving the money around..

This obviously made no sense.  By doing things this way, the cash would come from my bankaccount.  The gentleman stressed that I truly didn’t understand: we were simply establishing a method whereby the money would be returned to me.  And there was nothing to fear, because even if my $240 was temporarily displaced from my current bank account, the money would now be resting safely in a trusted app on my phone. I could at any point simply transfer the funds back to its original resting place, safe and sound.

This part did seem to be true…

And yes, when I eventually peeked back at that phone app, the $240 was there, still belonging to me.

But the representative then had to leave the phone for a bit, apologizing excessively for the long amount of time we’d already spent on such a nagging issue.  He promised to return as soon as possible, which was good - because at some point earlier he had added an app that was now capable of looking at the screen of my iPhone.

At least, because of this, I was able to show him that bundle of evidence accrued indicating the faulty behavior of the original delivery man.  He seemed extremely interested in my work and suggested the money we’d eventually be rewarded might even be higher.

Crazy, but I still believed him…


*


After he called back he was kind of upping the ante, which was driving me crazy.  At one point he even went back to those fifty dollar gift cards, but I stated with firm resolve there was NO WAY I was going to purchase another one of those.  He seemed adamant that this was not his intention.  But he kept dangling that possibility before me for quite a bit longer - hinting that he was trying to get me that hundred bucks back I’d already laid out.  He didn’t want to give up but finally relented.

And then he said the time had come for us to be reimbursed, first at the cost of another $240 and then at the higher price of $450.  He was having me work through bank account directly, and thankfully they were now not allowing us to move forward with this charade.  I might have been out of a lot more money had they not made their flashing lights shine.

But - even then! - I still thought this guy was trying to do the right thing for me!  I’d lost all patience, though, and finally let him know that we had to finish this thing up.  I believed my $100 Amazon expense would be an easy repayment, because all I’d need to do was cancel the order.

I wasn’t able to cancel the order.

Oh, well, I thought, after we were finally able to hang up.  At least I’ll be responsible and transfer that $240 back to my checking account right away.

But even though I’d seen the money resting in its new home with my own eyes just moments before, the balance was now at zero.

And it finally hit me.

I’d been scammed.


*


The next thing to do was to call  my computer-whiz brother Tom, who I’d chatted with earlier that morning over a much more jovial topic of conversation - our feelings about the recent Tom Brady Roast on Netflix.  I had to ‘fess up to what had just transpired.  I needed to know the next steps to make sure these guys weren’t ready to rip me off out of every bit of money I have.

His first bit of advice: it was time to get really acquainted with the security program he’d been advocating for a LONG TIME. My passwords in general were way past the point of needing protection.

And then the phone rang.  I wasn’t going to answer initially because it read “scam alert”, but I did - and was shocked to hear the recorded voice of a represenative from my bank, ready to help out with what they already had realized was a terrible ordeal.  I initially thought it was simply coincidental when the human voice came on with another distinctly Indian accent.  He seemed so sincere and ready to help.  I started giving him more of my credit card information.

And then he asked for the code to my bank account.

FINALLY - a bit of COMMON SENSE rushed to the forefront of my vastly underutilized brain.

“Wait!! Why would the phone read 'scam alert' if this was an official call ?  Why would I be giving YOU - as nice as you appear to be - such important information?!”

He didn’t take offense, saying he’d be glad to guide me to a different number.  When I declined, he offered to compose a note for the records.  I actually thanked him for being nice about it.  We hung up shortly after.

And then I called the bank myself.  It took a while, much like with Amazon, to be connected to a human voice.  But this American guy was friendly and helpful.  And he seemed quite certain that I had just been unceremoniously RIPPED OFF.

We canceled my debit card, with the new one scheduled to be sent to my PO Box (which I'd thankfully restored just days earlier) in about ten business days.  Though chances are slim, he wrote a report that might possibly result in the bank reimbursing me for that $240; the problem being, of course, that I was the person who initiated the transfer.  He did his best to not make me feel like a complete fool - but that was a hopeless cause at this point.


*


And the rest of the night consisted of Tom trying to help me shore up the security around all my accounts and passwords .  There was a reason why I didn’t get more of this done months before, despite his encouragement; the whole process is a confusing pain in the ass!  Most of it I could not have done without his help, even though the believes I would have eventually gotten the hang of it.

I made huge strides, though, working all the way past midnight.  And then I foolishly believed I’d be able to get some badly-needed rest, seeing as my long work week at the Martha's Vineyard restaurant State Road is set to begin tomorrow.

But here I am typing these words right now. 

I sadly have some experience being the fool and the only thing that keeps me from being completely broken down right now about these ridiculous events is know ing how they generally turn into amusing anecdotes after a few months or years.  So I might as well get into story-telling mode sooner rather than later. 

I’ll pause now and see if a smile can make its way to my face as I shut the light off.

I’m not taking bets on this unlikely turnaround materializing right away, though - that’s for sure.


*


Oh, and one last thing: that Indian guy left me with the promise he’d be back to finish the job of getting me that money at 10am tomorrow morning.

There’s a chance I’ll answer the phone.

There is NO chance he’ll swindle me again.

At least, that will be my intention heading into the conversation…


*


Lorraine (my mother) would have said “they saw you coming”.

Lorraine would have been right.





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