Did I just almost fall for a scam? I thought I was smart, but they almost got me by making me doubt myself. It sounded like a call from Ameren—my electricity provider—telling me that my power was scheduled to be cut off in less than two hours, because my last two payments had not processed. Stupidly, I believed him! Here’s the trick: He said that my “ACH” autopayment authorization with my bank had “expired,” and they can’t process payment without that. He said that “Ameren” had sent me a form to fill out—but I didn’t return it. Which was true—the part about me not returning it, because I never saw it. But he had me wondering if I had neglected something important.
So, he wanted me to fill out a new form. Like an idiot, I said, please don’t cut off my electricity, I can send you an immediate payment. No, he said, that won’t work. We can’t accept payment without the authorization form. He put me on hold, telling me that he would consult with his supervisor about a credit or debit card payment. But after 10 minutes, the call disconnected. I panicked. [I should know better.] I called the number back. He had given me his “name,” a “work order,” and his “extension.” The person who answered the phone had no idea what I was talking about and hung up on me.
How stupid am I? Of course, I should have immediately looked up Ameren’s number online. If I had, I would have known that this was a fake. But I didn’t. My heart was palpitating. I told my husband what had just happened. To my relief, he was totally calm and understanding. He said, “These things happen. It’s not your fault.” [He bought the story, too, apparently.] Then he said, “Why don’t you look at the account where the payments come out of, and see if they have been processed for the past couple of months?” Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? And, of course, there they were: perfectly legit autopay withdrawals for the past three months.
And then, by accident, I saw something on my Facebook feed that changed everything. [Don’t ask why I looked at it at that particular moment—I’m an addict, I guess.] A friend wrote a post about the exact same call, which she had fielded just hours before I got mine. She was savvier than me, and immediately knew it was a scam. Her post saved me from a trip to the ER for an EKG.
And then, belatedly, I figured out what they were really after. At first, I wondered why he didn’t just ask for my credit card number and scam me out of a few hundred dollars that way—as well as gain access to my credit card. Then I got it: They wanted me to sign an authorization that would allow them to go directly into my bank account and suck out all of my money. But you probably already knew that.
Fortunately, I didn’t give out any information, and maybe something in the way I sounded on the phone made the caller think that I wasn’t going to go for it. [He probably got a good laugh out of my protestations about having been an Ameren customer at the same address for 45 years and never having missed a payment.] I’ve read that many older people [like me] who are approached by these scammers, have the same reaction I did—panic. Many do not tell anyone what happened and how they were robbed because they’re embarrassed at being so gullible. So, although I’m feeling sheepish, foolish and more vulnerable than I thought I was, I’m telling you all of this so you won’t fall for it the way I almost did, and that if you get this kind of call, you’ll tell someone, too.