Financial Advice Columnist Confesses to Falling Victim to a Scam

( – Finance can be a complicated subject, and most of us aren’t experts. That’s why most newspapers and magazines have finance columnists who share their knowledge with us and –- hopefully –- help us stay on the right track. They don’t always get it right, though, and one supposed financial expert has just provided a stunning example of how badly wrong they can get it.

Scammers Get Lucky

Charlotte Cowles writes a regular financial advice column for New York Magazine –- but readers might have some questions about how reliable that advice is. Looking at her biography, it turns out her degree is in English, and most of her experience is in writing about fashion and cultural issues. So, how much of a financial expert is she, really?

On February 15, Cowles wrote a column admitting that she’d fallen victim to a scam that, reading about it, seems painfully obvious. Last October, she received a call from someone who claimed to be from Amazon’s customer service team. The caller said they were investigating suspicious activity on Cowles’s account and asked if she’d spent thousands of dollars on Apple MacBooks and iPads. She said she hadn’t; the caller told her she was an identity theft victim, and offered to put her in touch with a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigator.

Next, “Calvin” called her and said he was with the FTC. He told Cowles her identity had been used in a serious fraud case; according to him there were 22 bank accounts registered in her name, which had been used to send over $3 million overseas, and records showed she also owned nine vehicles and four properties. Worst of all, a fake ID in her name had been linked to a major drug find –- and there were warrants out for her arrest in Texas and Maryland.

A Fake Spy Appears

Next, “Calvin” handed Cowles over to “Michael,” who claimed to be a CIA agent working with the FTC. He warned Cowles that her assets were about to be frozen, and advised her to withdraw as much cash as she could. He also said her Social Security number was compromised, and she needed to get a new one issued. He then persuaded her to hand over $50,000 in cash to one of his “undercover agents,” telling her that the next day, she’d get a new Social Security number and a government-issued check. When she asked if the agent would have ID, “Michael” told her that undercover agents don’t carry any –- and, incredibly, she went through with the deal, handing $50,000 to a man who parked outside her house in an SUV while her confused husband watched from the window.

Obviously, none of this was true. There was no identity theft, and even if there had been, that isn’t something the CIA investigates. However, the “financial expert” let the scammers rush her into withdrawing a huge amount of cash and handing it over to a man with no ID she’d never seen before. Sometimes, the most useful thing columnists can tell us is what not to do.

~Here’s to Our Liberty!

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