I was the survivor of a scam on August 16, and would like to use this platform to tell the story and utilize this as a cautionary tale.
On August 16, 2019, I received a voicemail from someone claiming to be a Sheriff Todd Hughes from San Mateo County. The voicemail sounded urgent and genuine. I called back at 4 pm when I was finished with my clients that day. The man stated that a certified letter had been delivered to my office on June 11, at which time someone signed for it. Apparently, the letter stated I was to appear as a witness for a grand jury the morning of August 16, and because I did not show the judge issued a bench warrant for my arrest.
He stated I was to go to San Francisco City Hall Sheriff’s Department, and deliver a writing sample to prove I was not the person who signed for the letter. I asked him why, if the case where I was expected to be a witness was in San Mateo, would I have to report to San Francisco City Hall. He said that was where I needed to go. And that was my first red flag. I also asked the name of the case. He said he would reveal that when I came to City Hall. Second red flag.
He asserted that I had to remain on the phone with him throughout this ordeal. Once I got to my car, he asked me to state my name, time, and date, and each time I made a transaction I was to repeat my name, time and date. He advised me that I needed to withdraw $1496.00 from my bank account. I was then told to find either a Safeway or CVS and buy, in cash, three Reloadit cards (which are very much like a Visa or Mastercard gift card) for the total of $1496.00.
I was told by this alleged sheriff to give him the numbers on the backs of each Reloadit card, along with the receipts from Safeway for said cards and mail it to an address in San Mateo, to the attention of Captain Holloway. I did not have postage, but deposited the cards and the three receipts in a postal box because he said it would still be sent to the appropriate address. He assured me that I would be reimbursed once I got to City Hall.
Once I got back in the car, again stating my name, time and date, he stated that the court hearing would begin while I was on the phone. He said he had to speak to the judge and would call me back. Meanwhile I drove down to City Hall, went upstairs to the third floor and the Sheriff’s office was closed. It wasn’t until that moment that it dawned on me this was a scam.
There were two sheriffs seated in the lobby of City Hall. I broke down. One of the folks summoned the chief deputy. He ushered me down to their security office. It was there that I filed a report, giving all the information I had at the time. The deputy tried to call the telephone number “Tod Hughes” gave, and the phone was disconnected – probably a burner phone.
Two weeks later a sheriff with the crime investigation division called to say he would be following up. The letter I mailed is still in the possession of the post office, and requires a federal agent to retrieve. Here is what I learned. This guy was good; he was very authoritative sounding and somewhat threatening. I went into fight mode, with a large dose of panic. I learned that I need to calm down first, if I ever get a call like that again. Then perhaps call my husband, or an attorney I know, to test the legitimacy of the claim, or report it to the police.
This was a hard lesson. I am more than anything outraged at having been duped, but recognizing that I am now properly armed. I wonder why someone who was clearly intelligent and quite sophisticated chooses to rob people rather than seeking lawful work, who could actually provide some kind of service.
My hope is that this provides some usefulness to others. A dear friend said to me to think of this as tuition. Very wise.