I was really torn about sharing this event as a blog post…
As I write this, it’s been just over a week since the event took place and after a lot of thought, I decided this was the right place to share it. I feel this is a story that needs to be told and as a blog post, it will live on my website, which I have control over, not social media.
I am well aware that as you read what happened that there will be plenty of readers with thoughts of “good grief, how could she have been so stupid?” and “are you kidding me?” and “I really thought she was smarter than that…” but what I learned is that this can happen to ANYBODY and I share at the end, WHY I think it happened to me.
On Friday, August 5th, I had a 7 AM mammogram appointment, followed later by taking Joe to our primary care physician for a follow up “how are we doing” appointment at 9:45 AM.
If you are new to my story, my husband, Joe, is in early stages of Alzheimer’s and no longer drives.
Both appointments went well and once home from Joe’s appointment, he went in to change clothes, came into my home office and was in an agitated state.
One of the triggers for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia is being out of routine and the doctor’s appointment that morning was just that.
I won’t go into the details, but the rest of the afternoon was stressful to say the least…I was exhausted and feeling hopeless about my ability to handle everything as things progressed with Joe in the future.
Finally, around 4 PM, things had leveled out a bit with us and I remembered I needed to order some containers for my personal chef business.
I went into my office, sat down at my desk, held my computer mouse and clicked it.
In full screen mode, a page appeared with Microsoft contact information, along with a loud, authoritative male voice saying “DO NOT EXIT THIS PAGE…YOU MUST CONTACT MICROSOFT IMMEDIATELY…there is suspicion that your system has been compromised…you must call to avoid any breach to your security and loss of files…”
I couldn’t get rid of the voice and I remember staring at the 1-800 number thinking….”wow, maybe Windows 11 and this new computer have really caught something bad that’s happening to me…” my computer was 2 weeks old, so I called the 1-800 number.
A woman answered the phone, introduced herself as Christine, on the Microsoft Customer Service team, asked me my name, verified my email address and asked “how can I help you?”
I told her about the full screen pop up and the warning “voice” and she said so calmly, calling me Ms Elizabeth, not to worry, she would help me and took me through the steps to remove the alert, clicking on the Windows icon, going through some simple steps she walked me through and it was gone.
I was feeling better already.
She then said that she needed to determine if there was an actual issue by doing an initial scan of a certain directory.
She had me download a software program, similar to one that I’ve used before with my IT guy for computer repairs, that will allow her to access my computer to see where it was truly compromised.
The screen that showed up next once she was in looked like the old DOS screens, just words and bits of code and she talked to me as she was scrolling and “looking”. I was feeling taken care of and reassured.
It took about 5 minutes and then she stopped scrolling, sighed and said…”oh no…you have been hacked.”
I of course panic and say “what does this MEAN?
This is a brand new computer…how could this happen? What should I do? Are you going to help me?
She stayed so calm and reassured me that Microsoft does everything in their power to keep their customers SAFE and this WOULD GET RESOLVED and not to WORRY.
She was going to put a team in place on my case and it would take some time to locate the hackers in the data and eliminate them…
I would be safe, not to worry and to keep this process to myself and not talk about it to anyone, as there wasn’t any way of knowing at this point, who might have been involved in this breach.
Christine instructed me to make sure I had all of my devices on as the hackers infiltrated through your IP address…yes, that made sense to me…so I opened up and turned on my Chromebook.
She also said that during this process, we would need to stay on the phone line, to keep her on speaker so I could hear her if she needed to talk to me. If we got disconnected, she would call me back.
Ok, I’m so relieved there is a plan and this is going to get fixed! I’m really feeling taken care of and I am so grateful for Christine.
I tell Joe what is going on, knowing that he really doesn’t understand what it all means, but he’s happy that I am feeling confident that it’s all going to be fine…the hackers will be eliminated and my computer and data will be FINE.
About an hour or so later, Christine speaks up on my phone and says she needs to give me some information…they’ve located some transactions that are pending and to go to my computer.
I can still see the DOS screen working on my monitor and she asks if use social media and if I bank online…I said yes to both and that I do use the Key Bank online portal, primarily for deposits to my business account.
She said there were three transactions, two from Russia and one from China, pending to process to be paid in the amounts of $1,837.59, $889.97 and $1,345.98 and we needed to get on the line with the Key Bank Fraud department in order to move forward with a solution.
Christine had me open a browser window, go to KeyBank.com and read her the customer service number.
She told me to hang up with her and she would call them, explain who she was and would get a representative to call me and to give him her name and Microsoft badge number of 2002.
Soon after, my phone rang and I was thrilled to see the caller ID as the KeyBank customer service number that is on the back of my debit card….what a relief.
I answered and a very polite man introduced himself as Paul and said that he had discussed briefly with Christine what she discovered on my computer.
He then asked me if she tried to sell me anything and I said no, and I had her Microsoft badge number…2002.
He was satisfied with that information that she was authentic and assured me he would be able to resolve whatever the problem was, but first, he needed to do some investigating on his end.
Paul asked me to go ahead and get logged into KeyBank online while he was researching any pending transactions about to take place.
He then says, yes, he sees that there are three transactions for $1,837.59, $889.97 and $1,345.98 and that all three have been approved by email.
I said “WHAT EMAIL? I never got an email from KeyBank?”
Paul said whenever there are transactions that appear to be “unusual” for one of their KeyBank customers, they always send an email with the requirement to approve it.
He said I had replied with APPROVE on each of the transactions…which were scheduled to be processed the following day.
He said in the case of being hacked, the hackers actually open and respond to the email and delete it before I am even aware it’s been sent.
Now I’m sick with fear and almost in tears.
Paul was so nice. He said “Liz, this will be OK, I promise. Your money will be protected, we just need to go through a couple steps.”
“We need to remove the funds from the account that is compromised, which is your personal savings account.
You will need to go to your branch and withdraw $11,700 of the $11,760.08 that is in the account.
There is a chance the teller might want to know what you are going to do with it and I want you to not alert them in any way about how we are solving this as this department needs your cooperation in order to stop this internet crime.
I want you to stay on the line with me and tell me when you arrive at the branch and then again when you are finished and back in your car.”
I followed his instructions to a tee, even telling the teller I was helping out a granddaughter with buying a car…always feels so good when you’re in the position to be able to help out and she agreed.
Now I’m back in the car and heading home, feeling relieved that this is almost over…the transactions wouldn’t go through as there was no money in the account…sigh of relief.
Paul now tells me that I need to make a stop in order to put the funds into a Federal Reserve account so we could reopen a new account on Monday.
I needed to go to an address he gave me that was for a Circle K gas station. He said when you get to the parking lot to alert him I was there. I did as I was told.
Paul said “there is a Bitcoin machine inside. I will take you through the account setup. You will need your driver’s license to scan so have that ready.”
After the account was set up, he said “I’m going to send you a QR code to scan and then you will deposit the money into the machine and everything will be finished until we set up your new account on Monday.
You will get a receipt from the transaction and I want you to take a picture and text it to me for confirmation.” I did as I was told…I’m thinking it’s safe, my money is in a safe place.
In the meantime, while I was doing all of this, Joe was at home beside himself with confusion and worry as to what I am doing and wondering why I’m not home…he called me numerous times while I was feeding the Bitcoin machine $11,700 in one hundred dollar bills, one at a time and hoping no one grabs me while I’m in the process…
Once home and able to calm Joe down, I could see the DOS screen of Christine’s still working on scanning for hackers…she did say it could take a few days with the team on board…
I was relieved to know someone was taking care of ME and this would soon be over.
Now things get worse…
Saturday morning, after a great breakfast with a friend, I get home and Christine has alerted me that Paul has emailed her and he needs to talk to me and is this a good time….it’s about 11 AM…I say yes.
Paul calls and gives me the news that both of my business accounts have been compromised and we will need to do the exact same process as the night before, but to transfer the entire balance of my savings account into my checking and then take $15,000 out in cash…
So I repeated the same process as the night before, all along being reassured by Paul that come Monday morning, all of the funds would be released from the Federal Reserve account and into new KeyBank accounts.
I had faith in him, he told me NOT TO WORRY, this would NEVER happen again, my money was SAFE.
So the rest of the weekend, Christine’s “team” is still on my computer and I’m told that I’ve had 62 breaches by hackers, 7 of which they have “cleaned” from Russia, China, London and Ohio and were hoping to be finished up by Monday sometime…
I was so ready for this to all be finished and relieved this would solve this problem.
Sunday I was feeling really positive this was all going to be over with soon and decided to do a little painting to relax, so I headed up to my art table and got started.
The rest of the day was good, I felt protected and cared for and was looking forward to our dinner with Mom and Steve that night, all along keeping Christine on the phone line as I was told to do.
Monday morning, I was up early, excited about getting this whole ordeal finished later that morning.
I went upstairs to paint and decided to message my sister in Australia to say HI..we chat often.
Christine’s team was working but my phone connection with her didn’t start until 6 AM and it was 5:30 so Carolyn and I could message each other.
I decided to share what was going on with Carolyn as I was confident all was going to be back to normal later that morning and thought how could it hurt by telling her.
Carolyn immediately thought I was being hacked and I reassured her I didn’t think so…the whole process was so professional…and then she sent me a link about a scam like this and my heart and stomach started to ache a bit, but I really still had faith and trust this was all going to be FINE.
I drove Joe to his office in Lebanon at 6:30 AM and Christine is now on the line.
Over the weekend when Christine and I would speak, she would often ask how Joe was doing from time to time, as I mentioned his dementia and him being anxious about all I was going through…she was being so thoughtful to ask…she really cared.
She assured me this would all be over soon and with the security measures that Microsoft would add after all of this, that I could rest assured this would NEVER happen again…what a relief.
On my way home from dropping off Joe, I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask Christine for some proof from Microsoft that she was who she said she was.
She said that she would have to have her manager send that over and it might take an hour or so. I told her I really needed to see SOMETHING now.
She sends a screenshot over text of a picture taken of Microsoft letterhead with a pitiful paragraph about who she is…blah blah blah. I’m sick to my stomach…BUT I’m still hopeful about talking to Paul in a couple hours…he’s from KeyBank so he must have my back.
I hang up on Christine and close the scanning process on my computer.
I call Paul on the line we’ve been communicating on other than the KeyBank customer service line and tell him I feel I’ve been hacked and am almost hysterical at this point.
He calmly says, “Liz, I’m on my way into the office. I will call you from the KeyBank customer service line…you will see it will be all OK, give me an hour.”
And sure enough, he calls me from the KeyBank customer service number but tells me he has to wait until he gets the call from the Federal Reserve that my funds have been released.
I tell him I don’t believe him, that I now realize I’ve been hacked and scammed over a 4 day period and can’t believe they can hurt people this way…
I will be hurt and affected by this, but I won’t lose my house or car because of it, but it would do that to a lot of people…I’m devastated.
So smooth, so comforting, so professional, so KIND…ALL LIES.
I cried for hours, feeling so STUPID, so VIOLATED, so SAD about how another human can PLAN such a crime…I can’t comprehend it.
The final phone call…
Paul calls at 2:30 PM…I decide to answer…say’s “Hi Liz, I just want you to know that the Reserve has released your funds and you will be receiving a FedEx letter overnighted with your new debit card and checks for your new accounts.”
I respond with “I don’t believe you and I can’t believe you’re calling me…you’ve scammed me and I’ll survive but there are others who might not have…I had faith that you were helping me and instead you’ve robbed me through that trust…you’ve led me through a 4 day torturous scam with pretending to be KIND…”
Paul then took a deep breath and calmly said, “you know what Liz, you’re right…you have been scammed”….and then the next voice I hear says, “Hi Liz, this is Christine from Microsoft”…followed by bone chilling laughter…
After all of the self loathing, shame and tears…I stood up and thought about what was really taken from me…and it was just money.
I could have made it more than that, but I’m not giving Christine and Paul that power…and over the next two days, I finished the painting I thought might remind me of this horrible life experience, deciding it represented SURVIVING it.
I did report it to the FBI and the FTC and of course, my bank…which felt horrible, but couldn’t do anything as I was the one that withdrew the money.
I realize now that had I been in a stronger state of mind on that Friday afternoon at 4 PM, I might have made a different choice moving forward when that alert screen appeared…probably called my IT guy, asked any other adult in my house other than Joe, called a friend or simply just shut down my computer…but I didn’t.
I responded to the natural response of being taken care of…trust, relief, comfort…and when you are tired, vulnerable and confused, it’s a RELIEF when a hand reaches out and says…”it’s all going to be fine…I promise, I will help you…” and it’s comforting to just follow the rules to get there…
I was the most shaken through all of this because I have such faith in people and I’ve already decided this incident will NOT keep me from STILL having that, I will always want to believe the BEST in people…can’t help it, it’s my story, it’s who I am and I’m sticking to it…
BUT, what I have LEARNED the most out of all of this is, if I am tired, feeling sad, vulnerable or just not sure about what to do next and I’m in a position to make a decision about something really important is to…STOP…think MORE than twice and ASK someone else to help you…those that LOVE you will have your back…
If this experience of mine resonates with you, please share it socially or however you see fit…if just ONE person stops and thinks twice before a Christine or Paul leads them down a path they will regret forever, then this post will be worth it.