You know when people say, “I never thought that would happen to me?” Well I’m one of those people. And when you find out what happened to me you’ll see why. I have started this blog post about a million times and I keep deleting it. Maybe I’m embarrassed still, but what I do know is that I need to tell my story so that it might help someone in the future. I’m going to warn you now that this will probably be a VERY long blog post, so grab a seat and a cup of coffee.
A little over two weeks ago, I had just left work early to make my way to St. Louis. I was going to be boarding a train to Chicago to take engagement photos for one of my best friends. During the drive, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t know. Now, since I own my own business and my business phone number is my cell number and personal number, I usually answer numbers I don’t know. It could always be a potential client. When I answered the phone, there was an automated message telling me that the IRS had tried numerous times to get in touch with me and that I needed to call back immediately to discuss a lawsuit against me on taxes that I owed. Now that should have been a red flag to me, and to most people it would have been. But since I am a business owner and I take taxes seriously (if you know me well almost TOO seriously), I totally freaked out. I have been nervous about taxes ever since 2010 when I started my photography business.
When I called the number back, I was given a name and an ID number. The lady was telling me that there was a lawsuit against me, because the IRS had tried to get ahold of me numerous times, including trying to lead documents at my house but I was never home. Again, I work 2 jobs so I’m never home, so I believed them. I was then forwarded to that lady’s senior agent. Again, another ID number and this man was very stern to me and speaking to me like I was being interrogated. I pulled over at this point because I’m freaking out. He told me that I had 2 options in handing this problem… tax evaision. He told me I could handle this in court (which could add up in legal fees and penalties) or I could handle it outside the court. I told him I obviously wanted to go that route.
During my conversation with this man, I tried to interrupt him to ask if I could get off the phone and call my accountant to discuss details and my options but I was threatened with an arrest warrant going out on me if I hung up the phone or disconnected the phone line. I was told the phone call was being recorded and that I had to stay on the phone as I went to my bank. When I got to my bank, I was transferred to an attorney (or so I was told) and he was to give me protocol for how to pay these funds. I was told that they hired an undercover cop there and to not make small talk with anyone. Also, I was to go to the teller that was alone and not to a teller that was next to another. I was to put my phone on speaker phone so that they could hear me. They said I would be a fight risk if I tried to hang up or if they couldn’t hear me inside the bank. They needed to make sure I was where I said I was…again, or else the arrest warrant would go out. To be honest, they had me at this point because when I walked in to my bank, sure enough, there was a man at a counter next to 2 tellers and he had a binder. There was another teller by herself over to the other side. Everything was going how they said it would go and so that’s what locked me in.
You’re probably wondering how much they said I owed and I’m not going to share that. But I had just shy of what they said I owed. I was to withdraw the cash and take it to a larger bank (Bank of America, in Belleville). I was told that if I left any money in the bank and I still owed, that it would show that I withheld funds that I had to pay the IRS and that would give grounds for an arrest. So I closed all my accounts… EVERYTHING I HAD. As I walked out of the bank, it never occurred to me that this was a scam. Everything was going as they said it would and I believed I was being either A.) watched or B.) followed by tracking my phone or something. I was so worried about getting arrested that I did what I was told.
I had been on the phone for over an hour at this point. Again, I couldn’t hang up, so I had to drive to Belleville (45 minute drive) panicking in silence because I’m still on the phone with these people. I felt so alone and wanted it to be over. I had no idea where the Bank of America even was so they had to give me directions because I couldn’t hang up to use the GPS on my phone. Traffic was terrible around this time because school was getting out and people were getting off of work. If was Friday after all and people were on their way to their weekend plans. Not me. I was freaking out in my car, alone, on the phone with people threatening to arrest me. I wasn’t even acting like a rational person at this point. Looking back, I think I was acting like a robot… brainwashed maybe.
By the time I made it to Bank of America (still on speaker phone with the scammers), I walked in and didn’t really know where to go. It’s a bigger bank and since I don’t have an account there I felt a little confused. A teller asked if I needed help and I said I needed to make a deposit. He pointed at the desk behind me with some deposit slips there to fill out. I was confused on how to fill it out because I didn’t have all the information it was taking for. So I walked out and got on the phone to ask again the protocol. So I walked back in. I should have taken that as my red flag, me not knowing how to fill this info out, but I didn’t. So I walked back in and went up to the counter with an account number and a name. The teller, once pretty much through with the transaction, looked at me really weird and asked if I had an account with them. I said no. She then asked where this money was going and I paused for a second (I wasn’t suppose to say where it was going) and then just replied, “I’m just suppose to send it.”. By her reaction, I knew it was not right. But the damage was already done. It was like her looking at me weird like that helped get me out of the brainwashing I was under. I stood there and just starred at her and just walked out.
My heart was broken and I felt so mad. I picked my phone up and turned off the speaker phone and told the guy that he was just caught and that the lady at the bank didn’t seem like that was a natural thing, to just deposit money into an account with a bank I had no affiliation with. I told him that I was going to hang up (after 3.5 hours) and call my local police. I received numerous calls from the same number and I finally answered. He preceded to tell me that he needed to give me a confirmation number. I pretty much freaked out on him on the phone and hung up.
After a tiny meltdown in the parking lot of Bank of America, I got back in my car and cried the whole way back to my local bank, to let them know what had happened and that I didn’t mean to close all of my accounts. I was humiliated. I have family that work at that bank and one of them was the teller I had to close my accounts with. I don’t know why I couldn’t have just talked about it with her there at the bank. I keep thinking all of these, ‘I should have done this’ and ‘I should have said that.’ The head cashier at my bank was amazing that evening, as she stayed way beyond closing hours, to try and get ahold of anyone at Bank of America. They pretty much just told us that there wasn’t anything they could do.
I know you are all probably reading this and thinking that there were so many red flags during this situation and that I should have known better. Trust me, I’m not only dealing with the loss of significant funds, but I’m dealing with trying to forgive myself. I’m so embarrassed but I’m hoping that by talking about this, that someone will read it and remember it. That was if they get a call, they know it’s bogus and can just hang up the phone. I’m sure there are details that I missed in this blog post but that’s pretty much my story with how I fell for this huge scam. I used to make fun of people who fell for stuff like that. Now it happened to me and I still can’t believe it. I have been in contact with the local sheriff’s office, Bank of America (6 people minimum, go through this daily with their banks around the US) and the United States Treasury. Heck I even have family who are so upset that they sent a report to the FBI. At this point I know the money is gone, but my hope is that this will help someone. I don’t want people to get sucked into this like I was. It’s hard to not feel like an idiot with some of the police and others are telling you that the IRS doesn’t contact you directly. Obviously if I knew that I wouldn’t have been in this situation.
A good friend once told me that if every single person around the world would write down on a piece of paper what their biggest problem was in life and threw it into a bowl… that we would all probably want to reach back in and grab our own problem back. Things could always be worse. I have my health and a loving and supportive family who is helping me through this. I truly believe that there’s a better plan for me and I know God isn’t finished with me yet. My plans for buying a house and going to Ireland might be stalled a tiny bit but I’m not letting it get me down.
I want to end this blog post by asking you how you deal with situations that happen in your life. The bad situations. The situations that don’t go the way you think they should. Do you choose to let them get you down and depress you or do you choose joy and move on? I’m choosing joy. Matthew 6: 31-34 says this, “There fore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”