Help! My Wallet was Stolen in Spain! by
(354 Stories)

Prompted By Hacks and Scams

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With Carl and Curator Susan Stoops at going-away luncheon at my home.

I awoke to a distressing email from my beloved mentor, former Rose Director, Carl Belz. It said something to the effect: “I left quickly for Spain and today my pocket was picked. I have no money. Could you please wire some money to…such and such a number”. The email was sent to a large number of Carl’s many devoted friends, his entire email contact list. He knew everyone in the art world and far beyond. I responded that of course I’d help in any way that I could.

Then I paused and thought logically for a moment. Carl didn’t travel on the spur of the moment. His health was precarious. Though a former star basketball player at Princeton, and semi-pro player, those days were long behind him. He had leg and circulation problems for years and had had his lower left leg amputated a few years back. He didn’t just up and suddenly go to Spain. He and his wife Barbara were also babysitting his young grandson much of the time. No, this was not the Carl I knew.

I called him. “I’ve been hacked, Betsy! What a nightmare! They got my entire email list and it is linked to Facebook. I have to freeze everything and start all over. DO NOT respond to anything and DON’T send money!”

Former NBA star and former Senator Bill Bradley came to Princeton just after Carl graduated, while Carl worked on his PhD there and played semi-pro ball to earn money. They were practice partners on the court and became great friends. The former senator was traveling when the email came through, but one of his staffers saw the early morning message and did send money. Others were fooled as well; how many, I don’t know. I am glad I hesitated for a moment and called. Otherwise my first instinct would have been to come to the aid of my dear friend.

These days, Facebook Messenger seems full of hackers. Almost every other day I get some weird video that clearly is insidious. Weeks ago, I looked up how to delete these messages and just do it now without giving it a second thought. I NEVER open anything that looks suspicious. A troubling one came through a few weeks ago. It was a video headed by my Facebook avatar. It claimed to have been viewed over a 1,000 times. It was sent by a high school friend who asked if I had created it. I told him I had not. He had been hacked, but I feared, somehow, that I had been too, so I spent the better part of an hour changing my FB password on all my devices (computer, iPhone, iPad, then had to make sure that all log-ins matched up…what a pain). I know people who won’t use Messenger anymore because it is so easily hacked. Facebook is a market place for hackers and bots. Reading some of the replies on political comments can be infuriating until one realizes that Russians are still being paid to plant discord, so just don’t engage. It isn’t worth the elevated blood pressure.

I’ve had migraines for decades and been treated by neurologists for years. I am on a consistent regime of several different medications that keep the worst symptoms at bay. About 10 years ago, my doctor suggested using Botox injections as well, a well-established treatment.  I truly can’t tolerate them in my forehead (too bad, I could get insurance to pay for that youthful appearance), but do get quarterly injections in the back of my head. Underneath all that hair, the back of my head must look years younger! Insurance dictates that I order the medicine from a specific specialty pharmacy (I don’t even know where it is, I just call). They call my doctor’s office to confirm I really have an appointment, then ship the Botox to the doctor’s office a few days before my next appointment.

Or that’s what is supposed to happen. I have to follow up at each step. There have been times when steps have been missed and two days before my appointment, the office has called and said the Botox isn’t there.  (One summer I was coming off the Vineyard specifically for the appointment; ferry tickets are hard to come by in summer months and difficult to rearrange. The lab, for some reason takes about two days to process the request, they had to FedEx my Botox to the doctor and it still wasn’t there in time for my morning appointment. My neurologist used a different patient’s medication, knowing that mine would be there before the other patient needed his!)

I wish I could tell you this all runs smoothly. As you see, it does not. Sometimes they call me to try to schedule the next delivery (usually when I am driving and can’t really talk, as they never have all the information that should already be in their records; I’ve asked them to stop that). I have a note in my calendar to begin the process about a month before my scheduled appointment. But one day in the summer of 2018, I had a message from Accredo, the specialty pharmacy, on my cell phone, asking me to call. When I called back, a woman with an Indian accent answered. She said she was calling to thank me for being such a good client. I found this hard to believe, as my insurance company made me use this company. Both my doctor and I truly hate this company and would gladly go elsewhere if I could. She went on to say she’d like to offer me a $100 gift card that I could use at a store like Target, or someplace similar, as a way of saying thank you. I was wary. Why would a pharmacy be doing that? But she insisted that she was legit and didn’t ask for any personal information from me. She knew my name and phone number already. So, after a bit more hassle, I said OK, though (and I don’t mean to sound like a snob), I rarely shop at Target. The closest one is about a half hour away. It just isn’t convenient. Then the scam began. She asked for the number of a gift card I might have that had some remaining value on it. I told her I didn’t have any. No? She got flustered. She asked again…any card of value; not a credit card, just something that had some cash value to it.

Now I was annoyed. I told her I didn’t want her $100 card and didn’t shop at Target. And she yelled at me! Here I had MADE her do all that work and I wouldn’t even accept her gift! Whew! Trying to guilt me when I didn’t want the scam she was offering. Forget it! She finally gave up and said her manager still wanted to thank me. She was going to transfer me to him, but if we got disconnected, his number was 1-800-555-1212. Good Lord! Now I knew it was a scam. That is the phone number everyone gives on TV for every joke company. Of course we got disconnected.

It was late in the day, but I thought about it all night. I was really troubled by the call. These scammers had my phone number, had phished the real number of Accredo and given me a tough time on the phone. Of course, I gave as good as I got, but I decided to call Accredo the next day. I called from my land line so I could play the voice mail from my cell phone. The first person I spoke with was just a regular clerk who would take my order. I told my tale. She was baffled and put me through to her manager who was very concerned, listened intently to my call and took all the information to pass along to their security experts.

I never heard anything back from them, but no one from “Accredo” has ever tried to offer me a thank you gift card again either. These scammers pop up like weeds. We need to be suspicious of all. Never give anyone personal information.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Carl Belz, hacked email, Bill Bradley, Accredo


  1. Wow Betsy, I’m getting a headache just reading your story!
    Indeed we all must be wary, if something sounds too good to be true,
    it isn’t!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating stories, Betsy. The one involving Carl Belz is of the sort I have heard about from time to time. But good for you for going right to the source. Clearly, you are smarter than Bill Bradley’s staffers.

    The Accredo one is a new one on me, but I have not had any experience with on-line medications (or, thankfully, migraines). Again, good for you for following it up, but it is a particularly worrisome one since it obviously derived from some personal information about you that Accredo had on file. And screw Accredo for not following up with you. Not that it makes any difference at this point, but a number of states now have data security laws that require companies to undertake stringent remedial actions in response to breaches and to inform — and in appropriate cases reimburse — their affected consumers.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I mentioned, that email just didn’t seen right from Carl, so I hesitated and thank goodness I did. Senator Bradley’s staff just thought they were doing him a favor, I’m sure.

      The Accredo incident was weirder and more unsettling. No harm came to me, aside from some aggravation, but someone clearly got my name and number from their database and they did nothing about it. I am glad to hear they are now accountable for such breaches. They remain a pain to deal with.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I received many of those “help, I’m stuck in (name your country) and my wallet and passport were stolen” emails a few years ago. Now, I’m getting those Facebook messenger videos and I was dumb enough to try to play the first one I received. I hope it didn’t damage my new computer. I don’t like FB messenger, so I’m not opening any of them these days. Like you, I have constant fake calls on my cell phone, which is very distracting when I’m driving. I ignore them but wish there were a way to make all of this stop.

  4. Marian says:

    Wow, Betsy, you’ve really been through it with the scammers. The asking for money thing from someone you know is really creepy. I got one of those from a friend whose husband had cancer, and coincidentally, sounded real. Then I got suspicious and called her. The pharmacy scam sounds really invasive and uncomfortable. A few months ago someone kept calling saying she was from Fedex and the driver was in neighborhood and had a package for me. I think they wanted my address. Of course, if there really was a Fedex package, they’d know my address! I guess the scam was a bust because it stopped pretty fast.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Glad you realized that FedEx would have your address, Marian! These scams are getting so sophisticated. Unfortunately, the elderly are targeted way too often and are so vulnerable (my husband tells me that we are no longer middle aged, but I don’t think I’m elderly yet).

  5. Suzy says:

    Oh yes, I have received several “I’m stuck in X country and my pocket was picked, please send money” emails. I had forgotten about those. One of 3 things always tipped me off: I knew that the person was not traveling, I didn’t know them well enough that they would ask me for money, or there were enough spelling errors that I knew they couldn’t have sent it. In fact, most scam emails are full of spelling errors. My daughter Sabrina once refused to open an email from my sister because there was a spelling error in the subject line so she was sure it was a scam. You can’t be too careful!

    P.S. You can get some pretty great deals at Target! You are missing out.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Good for Sabrina, but I make spelling errors, as you know! Thanks for the Target tip. I don’t avoid it, it just isn’t close enough to go out of my way for it. I used to have to go to Walmart to get the cat litter that I liked and that was very near the Target. I would stock up. Now my cat has died (a few years ago), so no longer have to make that trip.

    • Then there’s the meme that says,
      “If I ever use poor grammar in a post you know I’ve been kidnapped and am signaling for help!”

  6. Marian says:

    I understand the feeling about elderly, Betsy, although my millennial business associates say I’m a “modern elder,” which is a compliment–I have a lot of experience, something like a village elder. I am a senior, but my doctor calls my mother a super-senior, at age 91. I can live with that.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Guess we need to invent new terms!

      • I was walking down the street holding hands with my husband and a young woman passing by commented that we were “so cute.” Really?

        I don’t like being referred to as elderly either but can’t figure out why since being an elder is traditionally associated with reverence and respect.

        Just found “genarian” for anyone over 60…maybe that could work. I recently heard someone refer to us simply “the olds” as in “The olds wouldn’t like it.” I definitely don’t like it.

  7. Wondering if anyone else has received the new “sextortion” email claiming to have evidence of me watching pornography (I don’t), threatening to send it to everyone on my email list, and demanding payment in bitcoin! Thankfully I had heard about it and simply deleted it. What’s next?!?

  8. Powerful story, Betsy. I, too, have experience with online pharmacies, but to date all good ones. And the Bradley story: are you aware that in his playing days he was known as “Dollar Bill”? Seems his staffer sought to prove it.

  9. Wow, Betsy, your tales of scummy scammery really brought across how painful it is to have yet another ominous intrusion into our lives. Sometimes it feels as if creeps are creeping into every pore of our well-intentioned bodies, hearts, and minds. And the scammers don’t give a damn who they ruin, rich or poor, the healthy and the well, the fortunate and the unfortunate. Sometimes I think it’s time for the Old Ones to pull the plug on the boson particle and let the whole corrupt contraption collapse! Thanks again.

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