Financial Advice Columnist Admits to Becoming Scam Victim

( – Who do you trust to give you advice? In our increasingly connected society it can be difficult to know who we can rely on and who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. However, you’d expect a columnist for a major publication like New York Magazine to have a clue…wouldn’t you?

Advisor Gets Scammed

On February 15, Charlotte Cowles, who writes a financial advice column for New York Magazine, admitted to having lost tens of thousands of dollars after falling for an incredible story she was fed online. Cowles said that last October, she was called by someone who claimed to be from Amazon’s customer service team. The caller said they’d noticed unusual activity on her account, and asked if she’d spent $8,000 on Apple products. When Cowles checked her account and confirmed that she hadn’t, the caller said she’d been the victim of identity theft and offered to connect her with an official from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

At this point, the scenario started to spiral out of control. A new caller got in touch, identified himself as an FTC investigator named Calvin, and warned her that her personal information was linked to a “quite serious” case. In fact, he said, more than $3 million had been sent overseas by 22 bank accounts registered in her name and she was also on record as owning nine vehicles and four properties. Calvin went on to say a fake ID in Cowles’s name had been found in a bloodstained car full of drugs in Texas, and there were warrants for her arrest in Texas and Maryland.

“Calvin” then passed Cowles on to “Michael,” who said he was a CIA agent who worked on FTC cases. He told her that her assets would soon be frozen and she needed to extract as much cash as possible. Incredibly, Cowles then withdrew $50,000 in cash from the bank — and was handed a pamphlet warning her about scams — then, following instructions, put the money in a box and handed it to an “undercover CIA agent” who parked outside her home in an unmarked SUV. In exchange, she was told, she’d get a new Social Security number and a government-issued check.

Of course, she didn’t get — or need — a new Social Security number, and she didn’t get a check either. Her money had been stolen in a scam you’d think even a child could see through. The CIA is an intelligence agency; it doesn’t work with the FTC on identity theft cases, and it doesn’t issue new Social Security numbers in exchange for cash either.

It’s beyond belief that Cowles fell for this story, and went along with “Calvin” and “Michael”’s increasingly wild instructions. But she did — and she’s one of the people whose advice we’re supposed to trust. You might want to think twice about that, though.

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