A Sucker Is Born Every Minute...
After Stanley, my husband of fifty-two years passed, I was devastated. Shortly after his passing I suffered a nasty stroke which forced me to retire from the pretzel bakery and challenged me with months of rehabilitation.
My wonderful family did generously pitch in. They knew my independence was the only perk life had to offer so they created a safer world for me. An alert system became my ally, satellite television a window to the outside world and a computer to give me more night cap options. High speed internet sounded like I needed a seat belt just to get started, but my grandson Randy had been kind enough to instruct this ancient relic in the arts of technology.
“This is your mouse”, my grandson instructed slowly like I was senile.
“Why do they call it a mouse? It doesn’t look like a mouse at all…I guess on a good day it could pass for a burnt dinner roll”, I questioned.
“Call it what you want as long as you know how to use it”, Randy huffed.
“Alright…I’ll call it Mr. Clickie”, I spoke proudly.
Randy moved on with a frustrated look like “Why did I agree to do this on a Saturday night when I should be out”.
“This here is your mouse pad…you keep your mouse moving on it”, Randy slowly spoke again as if my memory bank was depleted..
“I don’t like the words mouse pad…it sounds like the mouse has a bladder problem, I don’t need that reminder. I’ll call it Mr. Clickie’s mat, it’s more dignified”, I fussed.
“Ha ha grandma. Now let’s move on to the hard stuff”, Randy spoke.
“My ears are open for business”, I pepped..
“I bet they are. These are your reboot and virus protection discs, I am placing them on the desk shelve right here. Do not move them or you will lose them. Next, I’ve loaded your virus protection to protect your computer for one year, after that you need a new subscription. When the virus protection runs out you need to call me so I can install another year, if you don’t the computer will get infected”, Randy explained bluntly.
Poor Randy must have spent six hours explaining everything and even gave me a step by step manual on how to use the internet. He was such a resourceful young man. Still, I found myself pestering him everyday on pop up things, how to install updates, how to use search motors and so on. Bless his little heart for putting up with my computer lingo.
Time had made this little frail heart crawl on the floor and piece together what is left of this shallow soul. All the entertainment in the world, including daytime drama, could not dull the longing I had for my husband. I starved for that kind of companionship I couldn’t get from a fluffy Persian cat or yappy mut.. I’ll never take love for granted again.
After time had passed, I really started to surf the waves. I enjoyed window shopping clothes,crafts and sweets, but I couldn’t jump without a credit card. Randy suggested that pay buddy thing, but I didn’t feel comfortable giving out my bank information. Then one day, after my virus protection became outdated, I saw one of those popcorn windows…
“Two Hearts Apart Dating Website….find the one that completes you…join free now”.
I found it a hoot and couldn’t resist a sneaky peek.
I never dated before. Back in the old days, we didn’t have serial dating like what goes on today. We occasionally courted with a chaperone present and if we found a good match we’d marry, start a family and then call it a day. Stanley was my cup of tea from the very first time I saw him dressed in his Navy blues. Anyhow, I’m afraid those days are gone.
After exploring the website, I became interested. This was my chance at companionship that wouldn’t drool in my lap, shed on the carpet or bark for walks before sunrise.
With a slow steady peck I filled out my profile. There were so many questions to make anyone’s head spin. Some questions didn’t quite make sense to me, but I guess these are the times when you can custom order a mate then see what you have won.
After I finished my profile I regretted every click and poke. I knew no one would be interested in a hand me down, but it was too late I was in there for show and tell.
A few days later, after the embarrassment left, I was surfing again…and to my surprise I found a response to my profile. It read….
My name is Augusto Creek. I’m seventy two years old looking for a serious relationship with an old fashion lady. When I saw your profile I had to jump at the chance to reach out to you. It has been very hard and lonely since I my wife passed after a long battle with breast cancer. I’m new to the internet thing, but I’m excited I found you. We have a lot in common. I too am close to my family, love the theatre, enjoy a real home cooked meal and like to collect old coins. I’ll retire in about a year and may travel afterwards. Interested in talking to an old fart like me? Look forward to talking to you.
“Sounds like a nice and funny fellow”, I thought.
I was unsure if I was going to respond back, but the man was persistent on leaving me cute messages. It was hard to believe that a kind free spirited man (who was younger than me) wanted to get to know me. I figured I wasn’t getting younger so I decided to take a leap of faith. I sent him a response…
It is nice to meet your acquaintance. I’m sorry to hear about your wife. I miss my husband and am lonely too. Forgive me for not typing more, but I’m a chicken pecker on this keyboard and my arthritis is acting up. Speak to you soon.
We talked online for hours two weeks straight. Augusto knew how to bring a smile to my face which was hard to come by. I had wished he lived closer, but he was finishing up a contract job for a business development company in Egypt and afterwards he would return home to Boston. I resided in the small town of Desert Rapids, about one hundred and thirty miles Southeast of Fort Worth Texas. We shared everything from our childhood misfit days to our not so golden years. Then out of nowhere something unexpected happened… Augusto said he was falling in love with me. We exchanged photos and my heart fluttered when I saw him. He was so handsome like Sean Connery with a side of Marlon Brando. He compared me to a mature precious gem bathed in sunlight. What a poet he was…just like the time he sent me this little charmer…
Life has more meaning since you came along-
Happiness so overwhelming I could burst into song-
Never could anyone tell me this day would come true-
A piece of heaven so wonderful only found it in you.
Just as I got into the swing of things and could type a wee bit faster, the dating website stated my introductory period of thirty days was up and I had to give my credit card information to join. Augusto agreed that we should ditch the site and exchange numbers. I held my end of the bargain buying calling cards to keep in touch. They were pricey, but I didn’t want this special man to slide through my fingers.
Shortly after exchanging numbers Augusto called me. I was great to finally hear his voice, but his accent caught me off guard. I confirmed again that he lived in Boston and he reinforced that he lived in Boston, but he explained he was of Cuban and French Creole decent. I also made the comment that it was very loud at times and sounded like many people were talking in the background, he said he had to call me at work so it would be more affordable.
After pouring my heart out to him expressing that I too felt like I could be falling in love with him, I was taken back when he asked for money.
Augusto explained that his US bank account was frozen by the IRS because his accountant messed up his taxes. He cried and desperately told me he had to fly back home to attend his father’s funeral and wanted me to transfer money for a plane ticket.
He requested a transfer of twenty five hundred dollars. I struggled with it, I really didn’t want to wire him money, but I had a soft spot for him and he sounded like he really needed my help. He promised he would pay back every penny once his account was released. I believed every tender word and wired the money to Egypt.
Weeks went by and I did not hear from Augusto, I was worried so I called him. I tried to reach him several times but his phone kept ringing off the hook so I let it go trusting that something was going on more important than me.
Then,out of nowhere, he called me during a speedy nap.
“How was your flight home?” I asked.
“What flight?” he asked back.
“You know…to Boston… your father’s funeral”, I refreshed.
“It didn’t happen sweetheart. I bought the non-refundable ticket but I couldn’t leave the country. I missed his funeral, Oh God I missed his funeral”, Augusto cried.
“What in heaven happened?” I asked.
“A man wanted to do bad business with the company I work for. They told us we were all guilty, but I am innocent. I have been arrested for international fraud. My account is still frozen and without a good lawyer things are not looking good for me. The US Embassy is trying to help but I need money for legal representation, court fees and taxes. I don’t want to ask money from you again since I have not paid you back for the plane ticket, but I have no one else to turn to. You are my only hope”, Augusto blubbered.
“How much do you need?” I asked in a low voice.
“They say between three and five thousand dollars to get the ball rolling”, he peeped.
My heart was breaking just like phone connection. His complicated life was in my hands and I felt guilty to be reluctant to wire more money.
My heart strings played sympathetic again and I forked over five thousand.
Weeks went by until Augusto contacted me. The money I wired helped because he was cleared of all charges. This time he was upbeat and cheerfully romantic. He read me a sonnet, made me laugh and encouraged me to walk again. After a seemingly perfect phone call, he proposed to me over the phone.
I didn’t know what to say in spite of his generous sweet compliments, but I agreed to think about it. I didn’t want him to know how badly I wanted to meet him, I wanted to play hard to get, I mean even an old girl like me had to have game. He admitted to being a little forward and told me that there was no pressure.
Over the next month we chatted here and there, he quoted that he was quite busy and was in the last days finishing up the contract. I knew it would be only a matter of time until we saw each other face to face. It felt too long since he was in my dreams every night, in my coffee cup every morning and leaning over the sofa in my naps.
A few days before his scheduled departure Augusto made an urgent collect call to me. His plans to leave the country were on hold because his passport had expired due to his unexpected contract job extension. He had applied for renewal with the US Embassy three months ago, but they lost the paperwork. In order to get everything expedited, he needed to pay a steep expedited fee. Furthermore, his work visa expired and he needed to update that too or customs would not allow him to leave. This time the price for freedom was a whopping ten thousand dollars.
I felt used and disappointed. My heart wept for him, but I was tired of crying out the cash. I made it quite clear that he hadn’t paid me back and I had no assurance except for his word which now was not enough.
Augusto sounded upset, but understood. He told me he would find another way and that he wanted so much to be with me. He sweetly wormed his way into my bank account once more. I enforced that this would be the LAST time and if he ran into trouble he would have to turn to another source for help. Augusto swore on his father’s grave that this was the very last time.
I wired the money, sick to my stomach.
That night my daughter and grandson Randy dropped in for a visit..
“Do you remember after daddy died and you made me executive of your account?” my daughter asked.
“Yes honey”, I gently responded.
“Well I was paying some final expenses the other day and was informed that someone made money transfers overseas. Did you authorize that?” my daughter asked.
“Yes…let’s just say I’m helping a person in need”, I confessed while leaving out the critical details.
My daughter seemed relieved and did not interrogate me, but my grandson Randy became very concerned.
“I suspect you’re being swindled grandma…I think it is time to spill the beans”, Randy smirked.
“What I do in my private time is my business”, I snapped.
“Not when you becoming a cash cow”, Randy fired back.
“How dare you raise your voice at your grandma… you better apologize”, I yelled while pointing my finger in his face.
“I’m sorry, but we love you and we don’t want you to be taken advantage of”, Randy spoke in a more acceptable tone.
“I appreciate your concern, but everything is fine”, I convinced.
“Can you at least tell me where you met the person you are helping?” Randy asked sweetly.
“Online”, I quickly uttered.
“Grandma, I think you just have been cat phished”, Randy revealed with a helpless look.
“Cat-a-who?” I asked. Randy mind as well have been talking gibberish.
“I should have told you about this, but I never thought in a million years you would fall for it. It’s all my fault”, Randy cried with his face cradled in his hands.
“Told me what?” I asked. I was fed up with all the little riddles.
“Cat phishers are scam artist, usually from foreign countries, who prey on lonely women. They “hook” them on dating websites. They tell women everything they want to hear and become their knight in shining armor. They may write poetry or tell you that you are the love of their life. Once they gain your trust, they start asking for money. They may promise to pay back the money, but keep you on the hook until your broke”, Randy educated.
“Oh I see. Well I don’t think this gentleman is out to hook me and he will pay me back soon you’ll see”, I spoke.
“You have been warned”, Randy cautioned.
My daughter and grandson stayed for a while but I asked them to leave after they still made rude and false accusations against Augusto. If they knew him like I did they would be eating their words.
The next day, after the fall out with family, I tried to call Augusto only to find out the phone number had been disconnected. Puzzled, I kept trying…thinking I dialed the wrong number, but to my dismay this was not the case. I could hear my family’s voices inside my head mocking me. How could I be so stupid for fall for a man who I never met and agree to loan him anything he asks.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for him to make a collect call to me. Augusto was in cheerful spirits.
“I’m all packed and will be flying back to Boston tomorrow. Everything is good with my passport and I have been officially cleared by the Egyptian Government to leave the country. I can’t wait to drive out and see you".
“Me too. I was thinking it would be a good idea if I could meet you at the airport and spend some time with you in Boston before you come to Texas”, I suggested.
Augusto hesitated and became quiet.
“Is there something wrong with that?” I asked.
“No sweetheart, I just know your in bad health and did not want to cause stress”, Augusto cried.
“I am fine and if it makes you feel any better I can bring a family member along they are just dying to meet you”, I added
“Okay”, Augusto uttered in a low voice.
“Can I have your flight information?” I asked.
“What? I can hardly make you out”, Augusto replied..
“Your flight information”, I yelled into the phone. It was kind of loud in the background.
There was a silent pause and then I’m placed on hold.
Five minutes go by, then ten, then fifteen and so on. I contemplated hanging up…it was an international collect call probably reaching hundreds of dollars. Finally after about thirty-five minutes Augusto was back on the line.
“Sorry Genie…I got held up…where were we…” Augusto smoothly speaks now with a slightly different accent and tone.
“I’m not Genie…guess again”, I stated confused.
“I’m so sorry”, Augusto spoke.
“You do know my name…don’t you?” I asked. I was done playing games. I was not going to settle for just any mediocre explanation.
“You’re my girl…you’re my only girl Ester”, Augusto confirmed with a level of confidence that made me quiver.
“Who is Genie?” I asked with crossed arms in my voice.
“While we were on hold I had problems with our connection. Genie was the phone operator’s name and she was trying to fix the problem”, Augusto said like it had happened many times before.
I decided to let it go. I didn’t want to become jealous because it almost ruin my marriage to Stanley. I knew I needed to trust Augusto more to make this relationship work.
“I trust that you have your flight information for me now”, I firmly spoke.
“I leave tomorrow, but won’t arrive until Thursday. I leave here with a layover in London and Atlanta then on Flight 1778 on America Wing Airlines, my flight arrives in Boston on Thursday at 9:00 a.m.”, Augusto explains.
“Sounds great. I’ll book my flight now so I can meet you on Thursday”, I said.
“Okay…” Augusto spoke…then he hung up.
He didn’t sound overly excited that I wanted to meet him. I didn’t want to read into it too much because I knew he had a lot of concerns about coming back. We never met, he had to pay me back the money and frankly he had the worst of luck trying to get back home. I had my fingers crossed for him; he was the other part of my soul. He was the one that I had been waiting for.
I booked my flight, and then settled on channel flipping. Once in a while I would check out international news. I loved the crazy stories and headlines from around the world. But that night this channel shot an arrow through my heart and bled me dry.
A man named Augusto Creek was one of the victims who had passed away following a fire at a night club in Puerto Rico. They flashed his photo and I just collapsed. I couldn’t breathe. All I could think about was I lost Augusto…I lost him, but after the initial shock ended, the logic kicked in.
“What was Augusto doing in Puerto Rico?”, “How come the reporter said he leaves behind a wife and two teenage daughters?” “They said he was the owner of the club…but wasn’t Augusto a contractor for a business development company?
I wiped my tears and began entertaining the thought of my grandson’s suspicion. I had to face this objectively, this old lady had been duped, I was SCAMMED!!!
I cancelled my flight and anxiously waited for him to call again. He knew I was on his hook and I was almost certain he would call me tomorrow with an excuse why his flight didn’t work out and he needed more money.
Like clock work of a farmer to milk a cow, “Augusto” collect called me. I thought it would be fun to play along to see how far he could stretch those lies.
“Hey honey…I was just thinking about you”, I spoke.
“I know sweetie…I know”, he spoke.
“So I booked my flight to come and meet you, I leave for the airport in a little while”, I sweetly mentioned. I wanted him to squirm like a worm on my hook.
“Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that….I ran into a problem”, he sobbed; only now I wasn’t buying it.
“What happened?” I asked with phony concern.
“There were no problems leaving Egypt, but now I can’t leave London”, he revealed.
“What is it this time?” I asked. His mixed bingo balls of excuses were fascinating.
“The volcano in Iceland erupted…now the volcanic cloud is covering the whole area and all flights are cancelled.... I am stuck here for a while”, he stated.
“This guy is good” I thought. There had, in fact, been a volcanic eruption recently in Iceland causing a volcanic ash cloud so thick most flights departing from that side of the world were cancelled. I was waiting on his money request.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked him.
“I don’t know. I need money for a hotel, food and rental car for a week”, he stated reeling me in again.
“How much?” I asked.
“I don’t know….Maybe four thousand. That is bare minimum for a budget hotel, cheap food and a stick shift car to drive”, he spoke.
The jerk sounded like he was hinting he deserved better accommodations and wanted me to initiate a higher pay off.
“That will have to do”, I spoke with a mature tone like I was talking to a spoiled toddler.
“When can you wire the money…it’s getting cold over here and I have no where to stay”, he demanded.
“When hell freezes over”, I laugh.
“Sweetie…don’t do this to me…you’re the love of my life…the apple of my eye. I can’t live without you”, he begged trying to ignite his old charm.
“Do you know what off the hook sounds like?” I ask.
“No”, he spoke.
Then I hung up.
I found out I was one of the lucky ones. The same scam artist cheated one woman out of her life savings that totaled more than a million dollars. I also found out he was part of make shift call center that were scamming thousands of women and men out of their money all over the world. They had scripts, poems, maps, reference books, language converters and supervisors. It was a very sophisticated and organized crime operation. They were pro’s at selling themselves in order to get the dough. So I say this….
For all you ladies and gents out there broken or not…Listen up…they may tell you they love you…they may tell you they need you….but all they want is to get into your pockets.
This story is fiction, but Cat Phishing scams are real.