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How a Finance Columnist Fell for an Amazon Scam and Lost $50,000

The tale of misfortune started in October 2023 when she received a phone call from a woman pretending to be a customer service executive for Amazon.
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Adrienn
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Adrienn

A New York financial advice columnist got scammed out of a colossal $50,000 after she fell for a scheme that ultimately had her hand over her cash to a stranger in a shoe box. The story was brought to light in the form of a first-person feature written by Charlotte Cowles, a columnist for The New York Times.

The tale of misfortune started on October 31, 2023, when she received a phone call from a woman pretending to be a customer service executive for Amazon. The woman told her that she had called to verify Cowles had made various expensive purchases on their website. After Cowles denied buying any of the mentioned items, she was then misinformed by the scammer that she had fallen victim to identity theft.

She then directed her to a pretend official who was supposedly investigating the fraud at the Federal Trade Commission. After the man posing to be an official at the FTC verified her identity, he told her that her identity had been used to purchase multiple vehicles and properties. 


The man even provided photos that backed his claims and told Cowles that there were warrants out for her arrest in Maryland as well as Texas and that she was currently being charged with cybercrime. He also told her that some of these charges included money laundering as well as drug trafficking. 

"If it was a scam, I couldn’t see the angle. It had occurred to me that the whole story might be made up or an elaborate mistake," she wrote. She also wrote that how she never thought that she was easy prey as most scammers target people who are alone, economically insecure, and have low financial literacy, and as she writes in her column, "I am none of those things."

"I’m closer to the opposite. I’m a journalist who had a weekly column in the Business section of The New York Times. I’ve written a personal finance column for this magazine for the past seven years. I interview money experts all the time and take their advice seriously. I’m married and talk to my friends, family, and colleagues every day," she adds.

She then writes about how even after feeling "absurd," she proceeded to follow through on the man's orders. The scammer wanted to know how much money Cowles had in her account, "I told him that I had two — checking and savings—with a combined balance of a little over $80,000. As a freelancer in a volatile industry, I keep a sizable emergency fund, and I also set aside cash to pay my taxes at the end of the year, since they aren’t withheld from my paychecks."

He then told her how he understood how hard she must have worked to earn that money and urged her to not share the personal information with anyone. He also told her that he would soon be transferring the call to his colleague at the CIA who was the lead investigator in this matter. 


She soon found herself speaking to the third person involved in the scam. This man had a deeper voice and a slight British accent. He proceeded to give her his badge number to which she said would need more than that and had no reason to believe that any of what you he was saying is real.

The scammer remained calm and asked her to head to the official FTC page and look up the main phone number. "Hang up the phone, and I will call you from that number right now." Cowles did as he said. The FTC number flashed on Cowles' screen, and she picked up. "How do I know you’re not just spoofing this?" she asked.

He replied that it was a government number and could not be spoofed. He also told her that if she wished to talk to an attorney she could but then she would be tagged "noncooperative" and that her home would be raided. The man also seemed to have all the answers to every question Cowles shot at him.

"Can I just come to your office and sort this out in person?" she asked. "My office is in Langley," he said. Then, he proceeded to ask her how much money she would need to support herself for a full year, explaining that her assets would be frozen for a year. Wondering how she would get her remuneration without a bank account and hoping that her husband would help her sustain, she headed to the bank to withdraw the sum of money. 

Cover Image Source: istockphoto/Thai Liang Lim
Image Source: istockphoto/Thai Liang Lim

The scammer then asked her to give the money to him as he needed to track where it had come from and where it was going. Cowles soon realized that something was not adding up. "I don’t even believe that you’re a CIA agent," Cowles reportedly told him. "What you’re asking me to do is completely unreasonable," she said, after which a picture of his badge appeared on her phone and once again, she fell for his warped logic. 

She soon left a shoe box filled with cash in the back seat of an SUV that pulled over in front of her house. When she came back home, she realized that the call has been ended. Panicking, she called back and found herself talking to the woman once again.

She soon realized that they were all lying to her. The journalist admitted that she was flabbergasted to see how little it took for them to fool her. In 2022, it was reported that consumers lost the most in investment scams which is around  $3.8 billion followed by $2.6 billion in imposter scams such as this one.