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VOICES / A Forum for Community Issues | Gripe

'How I Got Scammed'

September 19, 1998|MAURA E. MONTELLANO

Police say that credit card fraud and theft of identity are being called the "the crime of the year." Many people fall prey to this kind of personal violation unknowingly when they give out information about their credit and bank accounts over the phone. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with a Santa Monica resident about a recent incident that started with a purse theft and the mistakes she made.

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MICHELLE R. SOLOTAR

43, personal trainer in Santa Monica

I work at a gym as a personal trainer and keep my personal belongings in a cubbyhole. I have never been concerned with leaving my bag there. But recently, I got several calls from a woman who said she was a Western Union employee calling to confirm a cash advance against my credit card.

Busy and occupied, I dismissed it as a hoax. Each time she called, she provided me with more information like my address, my birthday, my Social Security number, things I thought she couldn't have known if she wasn't legitimate. She said someone had apparently placed a call from my home requesting the cash advance. When I questioned how she knew it was from my home, she said Western Union had caller I.D. and repeated my number. At this point, I panicked because I live alone. I went to use my cell phone to call my home and that's when I realized my bag was missing.

The woman who said she was from Western Union continued to call me, offering help. She told me she would contact my bank and credit card company immediately. She repeated the numbers of my cards and said she was able to see them on her computer because they were linked to my bank. It sounded so realistic. She kept telling me everything was going to be all right, not to worry. There were times that I had extreme bouts of skepticism and questioned things that didn't make sense, but she had a response that sounded legitimate each time.

She told me she had called the police and filed a report and that an officer would meet me at my home. I was very nervous about going home because I knew whoever had my purse also had my address and my house keys.

I called the police to verify the report and was told the report had been filed. So now these people who have been calling are now legitimized in my eyes. How could they not be?

A couple of hours later, the woman called again to say someone had been apprehended by the police. I was told the police would contact me in 48 hours. When I questioned why I couldn't contact the police myself right away, they again came back with a good reason why I couldn't. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, she put a man on the phone who identified himself as the supervisor. He once again assured me and allayed any fears. Their plan was working. They were keeping me occupied.

It was not until the next day when I called the bank to find out when exactly I would receive my new bank card that I found out no one had called them. Later when I talked to an officer at the police department I was told there had been no report made on this incident. I couldn't believe it, I knew I had talked to someone in their office. This still remains a mystery. My credit card company was not contacted either. All told, in a matter of about three or four hours they had run up my accounts in the $8,000 range. It was a very elaborate and duplicitous scam.

It has been a living nightmare. Dealing with the police was extremely frustrating. There was so little support and understanding on their part. I was constantly told I was not the victim here, the banks were because they were liable. Of all the things I did wrong, the worst was believing and trusting that someone else was going to take care of everything. I should have called my credit card company and my bank first thing. I know now that this should be done immediately. Never give out personal information to anyone on the phone. There is no reason anyone should be asking for your Social Security number and other personal information over the phone.

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