I was listening to an audible book and dozing off when my iPhone rang. Usually I look to see if I know the number. I answered in a slight fog. Mistake No. 1.

The voice on the other end said he was calling from Apple. Someone was using my identity to try to make purchases at different stores. I should stay on the line to be connected to someone who could help me. I stayed on the line. Mistake No. 2.

I was immediately connected to another man, who said, “At this very moment someone is trying to use your identity to buy something at Walmart. We need to stay one step ahead of this criminal.”

He directed me to the Apple site on my laptop. It looked just like the Apple site I had seen before. I was sucked in without even questioning why Apple would even know or care about this kind of crime. He asked me for all of the places I had bank accounts. In a panic, I connected to my various accounts. The online banking sites appeared on my screen—as well as his. Mistake No. 3 – or is it 4? I have to stop counting. The voice directed me not to do anything at any of the banks or credit cards while we were in the process of shutting down the criminal.

My anxiety grew as the voice told me the only way to stop the crook was for me to purchase some Xbox gift card cards, so an Apple technician could use the numbers to stop the potential theft. “Where can I get these cards?” I said. He said, “It looks as if your closest store is Hannaford, a block away from you.” Instead of saying, “How do you know that?” I jumped in my car and went to Hannaford. I quickly purchased five $250 gift cards. And, oh, by the way, the voice was in my ear every step of the way.

I got back in my car. The voice said, ”Scratch off the numbers on the gift cards and read them to me.” He said that some of them worked; others didn’t. I had to purchase five more $250 cards. Apple was definitely going to repay me for any money I spent.

I said, “Maybe you’re a scammer. Why should I trust you?” The voice assured me that he was totally legit. But time was of the essence. We’d never be able to stop the thief if I kept balking. Success was only a few gift cards away.

I dutifully rushed back into the store. I tried to purchase gift cards, but my credit card had been canceled; the voice said, “Surely, you have more credit cards.”

You know how this goes. The voice urging me through next steps of using other credit cards. In between the steps I was directed to take, my husband was asking for an explanation. I kept brushing him off. I had to get this done. I would explain later. I bought more gift cards using his credit card.

Fast forward two hours: My husband and I are in the Walmart parking lot, having checked my bank account at the bank. No money from Apple had been deposited to my account. My husband said, “Hang up. Tell me what is going on.” I resisted. He insisted. I hung up. I spilled out the entire story. I was sure this was legitimate. It was through the Apple website and the person who was helping me could see all my accounts. I had to do what he said. Apple was going to reimburse me. The voice called back … I hung up again.

On the way home, I berated myself for being so gullible. Not to mention for being out a chunk of money. My husband had the difficult job of reassuring me – it  was an understandable mistake – while wanting to yell at me for not questioning, for brushing him away, for not using common sense.

All my friends said it was pandemic brain that made me so vulnerable. Several told me of how they had escaped a similar situation or kept someone else from doing so. And sadly, I have heard stories of people who did fall for such a scam. I guess this is more than a mistake: It’s a lesson for me and many others who think they are careful when it comes to money, who would never fall for the crazy scams they hear about, who are so sensible as to never be vulnerable in this way. Sigh.

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