I finally got up from the computer and headed outside to pick up the mail. Nothing interesting I thought, but then I caught my breadth. An envelope from Western Union poked out from the rest of the mail. I shakily opened the envelope and “Jack Pot!”, there it was, a check for 900 dollars I thought long gone had suddenly appeared. Take that Wesstern Union!
By now you are probably perplexed, so here goes my shaggy dog story.
Several years ago, in the summer of 2014, my family had just returned from a wonderful trip out west. It was lots of fun, but getting back to a routine can be exhausting. Dead tired and catching up on laundry, mail etc., I nevertheless agreed when my then 13 year old son and our neighbor asked to play frisbee golf at a park in Norwalk. I had never been to this park ! It turned out to be an absolutely beautifully landscaped park complete with wooded trails, large fields, English gardens and a mansion.
As soon as the boys oriented themselves, I sat back on a bench in one of the beautiful gardens to relax. Then the boys went off to play. Mistake # 1. I didn’t set a meeting time to regroup, but since both boys had phones I convinced myself we were all set.
After awhile it grew later than I expected. It might be nearing dinner time for my neighbor’s boy , so I decided to call the boys back. Just then my phone rang. Mistake # 2. I answered the phone without checking the number. A strange voice asked, “Is this Wendy?” “Yes”, I answered questioningly.
“Do you have a brother named Robert ?” They included his last name too. “Yes”, I replied again as a tinge of anxiety crept in. They had even supplied his address. “Well he’s been involved in an accident,” the distinctly hispancic voice continued which I thought was kind of strange, “and he has crashed into my brother’s Mercedes.” “Oh NO!” I gasped! “Is everyone OK?” “Yes”, he replied again, “but my brother is very angry and wants the damages paid for his car.”. I have since blanked out many of the details, but, The Voice, essentially told me that I must pay for the damages or my brother would be shot. Now, any normal person would not believe this. I have avoided many scams in the past, but when you say someone might get shot and you are a person like me, you just might get sucked in. Of course, I did!
I was scammed, hook, line and sinker. The Voice told me that I must not hang up and that I needed to find a Western Union to send money to. Part of me knew not to take this seriously, but on lack of sleep, strange surroundings, and the “What If?” I am ashamed to say, I panicked. “What about my kids?” I wailed. “I can’t just leave them!” “You will have to!” The Voice commanded..
I rushed to my car hoping to finish The Voice’s request and get back to the kids fast. Yet another mistake. I have since stopped keeping count. I had no idea where I was nor how to get to a Western Union. My panic was in full mode.
Long story short. I drove aimlessly until I found a main road. The Voice told me to go to a supermarket. On the way I stopped for directions at a Quickie Mart to locate a Western Union. There was one right down the road. I frantically grabbed a paper towel from the counter and scribbled a note asking for anyone/someone to call the police and check on the kids at Cranbury Park. I left my son’s phone number and wrote that it was an emergency, but the attendant looked away. The Voice was getting increasingly impatient and brutal. I drove on and found the Western Union. I then paid the 900 dollars to save my brother. As I got back into the car The Voice was still on. “ Go back in and pay more”.
That was when my reason finally returned. “ No way you #@!!%!” I screamed into the phone and then hung up. I was so rattled that I drove to the closest establishment and burst into the store sobbing. “I need the police!” I cried to the first human being I saw. Soon the police arrived. They tracked down the kids. They tracked down my brother. My kids had been picked up from the park by my neighbor and my brother was fine.
The police were not very kind, however. They told me two things. Essentially: How stupid can you be? and Your brother may have been in on the scam. Their treatment made me feel victimized all over again, but that is a slice for another lifetime
When I got home that night, my son hugged me and calmed me as I sobbed and sobbed. My fiance hugged me too, but he was furious. He told me if he were ever to be the subject of such a phone call in the future to tell them to go ahead and shoot him. Then he called Western Union.
My “attacker” evidently was from Puerto Rico. Western Union had the transaction information and I had a receipt. We explained the nature of the scam. They also told us that there were only two offices in Puerto Rico and that there were cameras in both. Still, they would not check their camera footage to help track down the perpetrator. They would not help further.
It took me a long time to shake off the events of that day.; the horrifying feeling of panic and victimization. The feeling of being so stupid and seemingly powerless. The feeling of shame.
Then one day, several months later, I received a mailing about a class action suit against Western Union. It seems that Western Union, despite knowledge of the role their service played in these scams, had turned its heads time after time. They were actually named as accessoires in many instances due to their unwillingness to prevent such obvious victimization.
Today, yes today, seven years later….. and on such an arbitrary day, those 900 dollars appeared. The class action suit I had almost forgotten about came through. Take that Western Union!