The woman sidled up to me after Mass, talking out of one side of her mouth like the racetrack tout on the old radio Jack Benny show.
“Do you know how much money you’ll get – and how much will I get?” she asked.
I looked around, puzzled, figuring the well-dressed woman couldn’t be talking to me, because I really didn’t know her and I always know that the amount of money I’ll have at any given time is exactly none.
“Money?” I asked, displaying my clever command of the English language.
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Before I was able to collect myself at least three more acquaintances immediately gathered and asked when they could expect to collect their money. Now there was quite a crowd standing around. I stared at them blankly. Not my best expression.
“The message you sent on Facebook,” they said, in choral speaking. “You know. You asked, 'Did we hear the good news?' and then you said that you won big on Powerball and wanted to share with us!”
This did not sound like me. They did not think this was at all surprising. Apparently the amount promised each of them was $250,000.
When I got home and signed in to Facebook, I found the answer. At least five friends, 10 acquaintances and several people I never heard of at all sent messages saying, “I got this message. It has your picture but I don’t think it really is you. In case it is you, when do I get my money?”
Apparently my Instant Messenger account has been hacked and is sending people messages that are supposed to be from me saying, as all of these nice people have insisted, that I’ve won the Powerball jackpot and am prepared to share it with them. This is one of the latest scams being run by creative but unidentified souls using Facebook.
The approaches vary. The message might be as simple as, “Your cell phone number won in Powerball draw” to messages like the one that uses my name and contact list. Apparently this scam is very common right now.
I was impressed with the generosity of my fictitious self. That, as the recipient of so many millions, I was moved to share with all my friends, who apparently and reasonably felt, “It’s about time.” I would have expected to see that I was taking a trip around the world or buying some really expensive anti-wrinkle cream.
The sting comes when the recipients of the messages are told to send a lot of personal information to a certain person or destination so their “check can be processed.” I’ve checked with as many of my friends as I could find, and I don’t think anybody did it. As I’ve always suspected, my friends are a lot smarter than I am.
My friend Gloria carefully documented the whole communication. She pretended to play along and was asked to "friend" an “agent” on Facebook who would “assist” her. This went on for several days, and stopped only when Gloria wrote the word FRAUD in her message! The person, pretending to be me, said it’s not fraud but Gloria says she’s never been contacted again.
Another friend, Doug took screen shots of his whole transaction, which made it much easier to report to Facebook. It’s good to keep in mind that the only way to contact Facebook’s Help Center is online on Facebook’s web page, so if you should be sent a phone number, that’s a scam too.
In these mean-spirited times, it’s important to remember that we each have the power to do just a little more to make the lives around us better, even if we don’t have money to share.
We can’t spend too much time dwelling on what’s gone wrong. As baseball great Satchell Paige said, “Never look back.” That’s good advice, although that way you don’t notice the toilet paper stuck to your shoe.
Anyone who knows me and received one of those Facebook messages can instantly identify it as fake. For one thing, I never play Powerball or the lottery. And if I ever do win a huge amount of money, I plan to keep it.
Facebook sent me a message that everything had been handled satisfactorily and the case was closed.
That’s easy for them to say.