BY KENNETH DEAN
The first indication something was wrong was the clerk at a local store saying the debit card had been declined and asking if there was another method of payment for my morning smoothie.
The bank didn’t open for an hour, but a phone call would be placed at 9 a.m.
A few minutes later, the phone rang and the voice said, “This is the (bank’s) fraud department, and we have a few questions.”
The bank agent asked whether I had been to Paris, France, or booked two flights to Hong Kong.
“We didn’t think it was you making the charges since someone was using your card number in Georgia and Florida while you were using it in Texas,” the man said.
Over the next several days, I learned a lot about identity theft, how quickly it happens, a consumer’s responsibilities and how the consumer is protected under the law.
I was told to contact the local police department, the FBI and file a report at the FBI computer crime websitewww.IC3.gov , where the case would be assigned to an agent and investigated.
The bank immediately discarded the old number and began the process of getting a new card issued and recommended being very vigilant over my statement and if needed then the checking account would be closed.
In three hours’ time, the crooks performed a “test charge” where a small charge is done to see if the card number is still in use, then purchased two tickets to Hong Kong and reserved hotel rooms in Georgia and Florida along with other charges.
In all, the charges totaled more than $3,000 and left me wondering, “What just happened?”
But there was more to come.
Facebook messages from two women in Alabama asking if I was a man named Scott Wiseman took me by complete surprise, but the link they provided leading to a Facebook account was a gut punch.
Scott Wiseman, whoever he or she really is, had been using photos of me to create a persona to gain women’s confidence across the nation in order to eventually scam them out of money.
The word Marty McFly kept using in “Back to the Future” came to mind: heavy. It was hard to believe what was happening.
Scott Wiseman would talk to women via Facebook messaging, no phone number was given to the victims, over several days eventually proclaiming his love before he hinted at some looming financial crisis.
But one woman’s friends went to work using a reverse image tool on Google and found my Facebook pages and contacted me.
One of the women said, “I wish that I could be of more help. I just feel really stupid. I guess I was smart enough to keep questioning things and get help.”
It remains unknown whether the bank fraud and the Facebook incidents are connected, but the FBI and Facebook are working on the photo-stealing scam artist and have shut down at least one of the person’s pages with my photos.
The entire ordeal has been a learning experience including learning that four co-workers in the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s newsroom have been victims of identity theft in the past year and that several of my friends have dealt with the issue in the past several years.
With $24.7 billion stolen from Americans in 2012 in identity theft alone, it is not hard to advise everyone to watch their finances and social media sites closer.
If you see something suspicious, report it immediately.