Commentary: Chronicles of a broke bitch: How to avoid getting scammed

“I have a bit of an emergency . . . there’s only $41 in my account.” That’s how the panicked call to my mother began when I discovered my bank account had been hacked. Poof, gone.

On Sept. 27, seconds after closing my banking app, a text rolled in. It said it was from Scotiabank, and me, being an idiot, believed it. It told me I was locked out of my account and had to log in again online.

So, what’s an idiot to do other than follow the instructions and log in again?

I realized half way through, it probably wasn’t legit. I exited the browser and didn’t think much of it. I assumed my money would stay safely tucked away until I needed it. And for a week, it did.

The horrid incident

On Oct. 4 I was checking my account, like I often do, before purchasing something. But this time, instead of happily heading to the Walmart checkout with a $2 bottle of dish soap, I ran out of the store with my mother on the phone and tears welling in my eyes.

I’m not going to tell you how much money was taken, because for some reason people don’t disclose that kind of information so I guess I won’t either. But it was a lot.

To make matters worse, or funnier, depending on your sense of humour, when I logged into my account to see what happened I noticed $40 was on hold. So, I had access to exactly $1.12.

Way to kick me when I’m down.

After 45 minutes of waiting on hold with the fraud department, someone finally answered. He told me the investigation would take at least 10 business days, and if I were found liable for the loss, I’d be sent paperwork to appeal the liability charge.

“OK, so what do I do if I can’t get my money back?” I asked. “I’m a student, like, I need that money to survive.” The line was silent for a second before he came up with an answer.

“I really don’t know, that’s just what I’m trained to say,” he said. Something tells me that answer wasn’t a part of said training.

I hung up and tried to keep myself from crying (again). My face was already blotchy enough.

My mom showed up an hour later for moral support. She might’ve been angrier than me. Nobody messes with Patti Hoyt’s kids.

She took me to the RCMP office to file a complaint.

Protect ya-self

The whole time I was thinking how I could have avoided this. I’d literally taken classes about cybersecurity and protecting yourself.

Heather MacLean is a St. Thomas University professor who works in cybersecurity. She has five basic tips to avoid being scammed.

  1. Be careful when providing personal information. Make sure you know who it’s going to and why.
  2. Social media is not your friend. It’s full of personal information like your mother’s maiden name and your pet’s name, information people could use to hack your accounts and scam you.
  3. Never believe texts or emails from banks or other organizations asking for your passwords to login or receive a refund.
  4. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, don’t give out your information. Ask for their information and then call your bank to verify it’s legitimacy.
  5. Be vigilant. Always protect your information as best you can. Once it’s leaked, it’s leaked.

The aftermath

We went back to my apartment and tried to enjoy ourselves for the night. It involved a little bit of wine and a lot of self-deprecating jokes. At one point my mother had the audacity to ask me what I was getting my father for his birthday a week later. With $1.12? He got a hug.

The next morning, we went to the bank to get a new debit card. I immediately requested the tap feature be removed. I didn’t need anyone stealing what was left in my account. Now I get some annoyed looks from cashiers when I put my chip in rather than tapping the card, but whatever. I’m being responsible, thank you very much. 

The next 10 business days crawled by. My missing money still wasn’t returned. I was beginning to lose hope and continued to kick myself for being such an idiot.

On Oct. 22, 12 business days after my money had been taken and I filed my complaint, I decided to check my bank account. I’d checked it about three times a day since the incident, but I had a feeling this time would be different.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. For two weeks I had imagined how it would feel to see my money back in my account and now it was there. Apparently, I wasn’t found liable. My money came back.

I paid for my mistake with the most stressful weeks of my life. But I was OK, everything was OK.

Moral of the story: take all the precautions you can and just never – ever – be an idiot like me.

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