"Yank" was a constant presence on Barbara's cellphone at the end of March, staying on the line as he directed her to withdraw money from various credit union branches and deposit the cash into Bitcoin machines.
He claimed to be with the fraud department at Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union, where Barbara is a member, and said she needed to move her money to keep it from being stolen by scammers.
Turns out "Yank" was the one who was the scammer and, by the time Barbara caught on, she and her husband were out $90,000 – a huge chunk of their life savings.
"I'm angry more than anything," says Barbara, a retired violinist who once played with the Utah Symphony. "I am also a senior and, to this point, would have considered myself relatively savvy."
For example, the longtime Albuquerque resident says that, for years, she has checked her online banking accounts twice a day to watch for fraud.
The nightmare started March 30 with a text saying $900 had been charged to her Amazon account and she should call the given number if the charge wasn't hers.
She called and was told to hold for the credit union's fraud department because of "ongoing efforts to wire $20,000 from the credit union accounts to somebody in Thailand."
"It kind of freaked me out," Barbara says, adding that she thinks she was vulnerable to a story about losing her money because her debit card had been breached a while ago. (She lost no money in that incident.)
With Yank on the phone, Barbara drove to credit union branches around Albuquerque and withdrew chunks of money over three days. Each time she took out $10,000 or more, the teller would ask a list of questions. And Barbara would follow the scammer's instructions by saying the money was needed to pay workers on a remodeling job.
She was told to open two Bitcoin accounts and, at Yank's direction, begin depositing the cash, bill by bill, into Bitcoin machines at several locations.
The whole thing unraveled when Barbara told her piano tuner, who told a lawyer friend, who said Barbara needed to call the credit union immediately.
Melissa Stock, credit union spokeswoman, said she could not discuss individual customers or policies for dealing with suspicious withdrawals. However, she said the credit union is "consistently trying to educate our members" about financial fraud and has posted articles on its website about security.
Barbara undoubtedly will never get her money back, but she's grateful she didn't lose any more and she wanted me to tell her story as a warning to others.
Amy Nofziger, AARP fraud victim support director, says bogus Amazon texts, emails or calls are among the top imposter scams right now. If you have any questions or concerns about your account, check it online at the legitimate Amazon website.
She says the reason Barbara's scammer wanted to stay on the line with her was that he didn't want her alerting anyone. He wanted to keep her in a state of fear with no time for second thoughts, Nofziger says.
A few other things to consider:
Would anyone from a credit union – or any service industry – spend that much time with you on the phone? Likely not, in an age where sometimes you have to wait hours just to get to a human.
Would a real financial institution tell you to lie about withdrawing money? Or anything else? "If someone asks you to lie, that is a huge red flag," Nofziger says.
Contact Ellen Marks at [email protected] or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx