Michigan widow lost $30K to scammers
By TRESA BALDAS
Detroit Free Press
AP Member Exchange
DETROIT — They beat her when she was down.
At 57, Christina Ihlenfeldt is reeling with heartache, anger and regret — gut-wrenching regret. In just one week, she buried her husband, became unemployed and then got taken for $30,000 by online scammers pretending to be with Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
This wasn’t supposed to happen to her, she would later think. She was college educated and tech savvy. She had a legal background, worked with computers her entire work life and helped major corporations process patent payments.
But she was emotionally and mentally drained after her husband’s death, she said, and the slick con artists lay in waiting.
“They knew I was a widow,” the Clinton Township woman told the Detroit Free Press. “And they were very prepared. … I keep thinking, ‘How could I have let this happen? ‘ “
And then the memories come flooding back:
The night she found her husband on the bathroom floor. The heart attack. The nurses telling her his body was shutting down. The peaceful look on his face when he took his final breath at home.
“I was vulnerable, and they knew it,” said Ihlenfeldt, struggling to regain her composure. “I would never have done this if I was in my right mind.”
After two weeks of agonizing — she called the FBI, her children, her bank, a bank in Thailand and the wire-transfer company that released her funds to faraway scammers — Ihlenfeldt decided to speak up about what happened to spare others her fate.
“I’m beating myself up over and over and over again, but I was vulnerable,” she said. “And despite the embarrassment, I don’t want others to fall prey to this.”
How a widow got scammed
It was about 10:30 a.m. Aug. 19 and Ihlenfeldt was sitting outside on one of her husband’s old aluminum lawn chairs, drinking coffee and trying to enjoy the morning sun.
“I was so depressed,” she recalled, noting her hellish week.
Six days earlier, she had buried the love of her life, Bob Ihlenfeldt, 69, who passed away after battling a foot infection followed by a heart attack that he couldn’t fight back from.
Then four days after the funeral, she got a call from work: They were eliminating her position, ending her nearly six-year career as an administrative assistant at a financial services philanthropic firm.
Two days later, the scammers zeroed in on her.
As she sipped on her coffee in the lawn chair, an AOL email alert went off on her cellphone. It was from her husband’s email account, which she had access to.
The email said it was from Geek Squad Best Buy, stating that it had auto-charged his account $300 for two additional years of protection.
It looked plausible, she recalled, so she set out to cancel the two-year protection plan, noting it wasn’t needed anymore, and she didn’t want a $300 charge coming out of her husband’s account.
So she dialed one of the phone numbers listed in the email.
“I said, ‘I’m calling because of this email. I’d like to request a refund. We don’t need protection.”
” ‘Oh yes Ma ‘am. We can help you with that,’ “ she recalled the male voice on the other line telling her.Then came what she would later realize was the first red flag: The man said he would send her a form to fill out to start the refund.