Anatomy of a scam: Readers, be warned

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Editorís note: The pain and humiliation that goes with being the target of a scam or fraud goes beyond what most people would think possible. Here is an unedited narrative submitted this week to CDA Press Consumer Guy Bill Brooks from a local resident. The woman was not a Press subscriber so she was unaware of this scam, which Brooks has written about. Friends suggested she contact Bill and share her story so that it might help others.

• ē ē

By J.B.

Coeur díAlene

This is my account of what happened on Thursday, Oct. 19. Please note the conversation may not be noted here in the exact order it happened as it all begins to push together in my mind and Iím just trying to write down things he said so I donít forget them. Anyway, it can be jumbled a bit.

A voicemail was left on my office desk phone. The message was very hard to make out as the manís voice was cutting and fading in and out. The most I could make is of it was A Deputy Mark from some police/Sheriff office regarding a warrant/violation and that I needed to call them back at 208.450.3147.

I called that number back and got a voicemail message apologizes that no deputy is available to take my call but leave a message and one of them would get back to me as soon as possible. I donít honestly remember if the message said the name of the establishment or what it was, if it did.

As a friend was taking me to pick up my vehicle at the mechanics I received the phone call back. The man identified himself as Deputy Mark Bowen (I think) with the Warrant/Violation division of I believe the Sheriffís office. He said that there were two warrants/violations out for me due to failure to appear to a Federal Jury summons. I told him I received so such summons. He asked if my current address was xxxxx CDA and I said yes. He said one summons was sent to me on August something, another one on September something and then a follow-up phone call on September something. I told him I did get a new phone number as of Sept. 18, so I would not have received the phone call or message. (note: this entire time he is talking very fast and trying to be very official with a very bad connection. I did find it strange that the connection was so bad and that he loved to say 10-4). He said his division does not issue the citations, itís just his job to find me and inform me of the violations and work with me to get the best outcome.

He said I would need to report to 1130 3rd Ave. N to Room 108. And that when I report there I need to make sure I have these citation numbers: CR6115865DA & CR17010964LE. He said one was regarding failure to appear and one was contempt of court because when the judge called my name and I did not appear, they had to stop court so the bailiff could go out into the hallway to see if I was present.

He said that he wasnít saying I was guilty and I wasnít the first person to ever not get the summons and he knows I have no record and am a law-abiding citizen. He job was to help me get these two matters cleared up and dismissed and that nothing would go on my record. He said I had two options that I had to decide between on how I wanted to handle getting these matters solved. But first he said it was very important that he not lose the connection with me. He asked how much battery I had on my phone. I said a little less than 50 percent. He said good, because if we lose connection he has no other alternative than to let these citation/warrants go into effect and then any officer could pick me up.

I could come down to 1130 Third Ave. N Room 108 and go through the booking process. I would be finger printed, put in a holding cell as the proper paperwork was processed and that I would then be released. This would take 8-10 hours.

That I could go to various vendors to get EPS Green dot money pak vouchers for any fees that are associated with these two citations/warrants. At that time, he wasnít sure if or what fees were associated with them, but would find that out if I chose to take this route. This was all confusing at this point and he was talking 100 miles an hour, plus cutting in and out. He said something about no personal information could be exchanged once I got down to them on Third Street due to previous scams with credit/debit cards within the organization that heís sure I have heard about. So now they use this voucher system to pay fines so that no personal information is exchanged at all at the courts/station (not sure which word he used) But once arrived at this address with the appropriate vouchers then they would scan them on NCIC, get the charges removed, give me my money back and then I would be released.

Which method would you like to proceed with? I said Iíd like to know if there was fines associated and he said he would check with Nancy Clark their court ???? (forget what title he gave her). Then I could hear him on what was supposed to be a radio stating his name, badge number, inquiring about these two citation numbers and it went quiet for a bit. He came back on and said CR17010964LE had $1,187.00 in fines and CR16115865DA was $1,265.00 for a total of $2,452.00. He asked based on this information what would I like to do? I reconfirmed that I would get this money back and he confirmed. I said Iíd rather do the voucher process. (there was more conversation in here) But basically the gist of it was that he said I could go to Albertsons, Safeway, Pilot, Rite-Aid and asked if any of those places was close to me. I said yes. But I asked him to clarify for me if these vouchers could be purchased via credit card. He said he wasnít sure but could ask Nancy Clark. He asked if my bank was close so I didnít have to worry about that and could just go get the cash to purchase these vouchers.

I told him I didnít have that kind of cash. He said he checked with Nancy and she wasnít sure but I should try it. Then he asked again for me to state which option I was wanting to choose. I told him since I didnít have the cash it didnít appear I had an option, that I needed to head that way and let them book me. He said that was fine if itís what I wanted to do, but the ordeal of booking someone was very time consuming and not a pleasant experience and would rather walk through the voucher possibility with me. That he was here for me and to help me the best he could. He said, why donít we try tracking down the voucher option first before going the booking route. I told him OK, I would go to Safeway. He reminded me to make sure our connection stayed there and since it was illegal to drive and talk on the phone to just put the phone down while I drove and then when I got to Safeway to report into him and he would help me locate them in the store. As I walked into Safeway he told me to find the gift card section. And that it was very important I found the exact vouchers he will describe to me because if I arrived at the station with the wrong vouchers then they would have to book me. He said the vouchers had green dot stated on them and Money Pak. It was very important it said green dot and money pak and that the back of the card had a scratch off capability with numbers. I found the vouchers went to the register, but they said it had to be cash only. I said thank you and walked out.

I told him what they said and he said OK, letís try the next one. I asked him if I could contact a friend to see if they had the cash and he said he was afraid if I tried to text a friend it could make our connection disconnect and then heíd have to issue the warrants. Instead of taking that gamble to lose connection with him, he thought it better if I allowed him to stay on the line and walk me through all my other options first. I drove to Office Max, reported into him again that I was there and he said I should look for the same gift card section. I took them to the register, they rang in two of them (The deputy told him the max amount for each one was $500 so I would have to buy 4 at $500 and 1 at $452). The guy at the register wrong in two $500 and then asked for me ID and typed in all the information on my driverís license. After he rang up the 5 vouchers, he told me the amount and said it had to be cash. I told the guy on the phone that and he said OK, just thank them and walk out. I complied. I went to Rite Aid next with basically the same interaction.

After Rite Aid was willing to let me go to another, but I said if all these places wouldnít take credit than Iím sure the other ones wonít either. I told him, that I should just head to him and then once I was in his presence I could call a friend to see if they could loan me the cash. He said if you come in without the vouchers than once you are in our presence we have to book you. I told him then I guess he will have to book me cause Iím out of option. He then said OK, I will give you 10 minutes to contact a friend to see if you can get the money for these vouchers. If he didnít back from me in 10 minutes then he would call me and if he couldnít reach me than he would ask officers to pick me up.

I called on friend hysterically, she said she didnít have any money but recommended a cash advance on my credit card through my Chase bank in Fred Meyers. I told her I was on the way there. She said sheíd meet me. In the meantime, I texted and called a different friend 3 or 5 times. I finally reached her as I was parking at Fred Meyer. She said she would head that way and see what she could do. I think on my way to Fred Meyer I called the guy back, go the voicemail message and told them who I was and what I was doing (going to Fred Meyer to see about a credit card cash advance). I went into the bank and thank God, the credit card company declined my cash advance. I met my first friend and Mark called me back. I told him I was waiting on my friend to arrive to see if she could get the money. As my phone was running out of battery I asked him if he wanted to call me on my friendís phone. He said I thought you were waiting on your friend. I said I was, and that a different friend was with me. He took her number and called me back on that phone.

My 2nd friend then arrived and said she had called a friend of hers whose job was a supervisor with the jury duty portion of the courts and she said we donít arrest people or fine them for not appearing and that she was sure I was being scammed. My heart just sank (he was still on the phone). I got back on the phone and told him that the police station was just around the corner from where I was and that I was going there and he could meet me there. He said fine, your friend and watch you get booked and hung up.

Notes:

The time span was from approximately 3:40Ė6:15 p.m.

I was held captive for almost 3 hours in my car and on my phone. I never felt more alone.

I am amazed at how this incident as affected me. I am a woman of pretty good intelligence and great common sense. Iím a very strong independent woman and this happened to me. That night, the following day and even today Ė two days after, I am in and out of emotion breakdowns. Iím good for a while and then this flood of emotions hit me and Iím breaking down in tears.

I feel anger, stupidity, and shame. The easiest thing to do would be to just try and forget about it and move on. But thatís what they want me to do. They know how stupid I must feel and how ashamed of myself I must be to allow myself to be in that situation. And I do, I feel all of that. But their hope is Iíll just keep it to myself, so they can continue to scam others. I have realized I need to try and get this out there, even if it does highlight my shame and stupidity of allowing this man to control me for almost 3 hours. But if it can happen to someone as independent and strong as I think I am, then how easy will it be for them to take control over those that are more vulnerable or weaker? Others need to know this information so if they do get a call like this, they will know it is a scam.

J.B.

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