Scammed locals speak out: ‘It was a nightmare,’ ‘Chaos’

SCAMS. A local was scammed by a person she thought was a love interest. A business owner was told she owed nearly $1,000 on her utility bill. A phishing scheme nearly collects $10,000 from another resident.

| 08 Apr 2024 | 11:30

It was a busy Friday at Charlotte’s Tea Room in Warwick, N.Y. when owner Joanne Graney received a phone call from what she thought was an Orange and Rockland representative.

“He said, ‘Can I have who’s in charge of the Orange and Rockland bill?,’” recalled Graney.

“I said: ‘That would be me, this is Joanne. How can I help you? I am the owner.’”

The representative asked Graney if she had “received the letters” from Orange and Rockland – she replied yes, assuming it was in reference to new meters.

Juggling orders for her luncheonette and running her business, Graney was caught off-guard when the representative said she was past-due on her bill, with a balance of $946 and change.

‘Sheer chaos’

At first, Graney was fairly certain she didn’t owe any money. But then she started to second-guess herself: “Well, maybe I do, I do not know. I have an apartment upstairs I pay for... Also, at my house, I have two different heaters.”

The representative told Graney that electricity would be turned off at 2 p.m. if payment wasn’t made before then. It was 1:30. Her business was open. She couldn’t have the lights go off within a half hour. “He said we need a payment,” recalled Graney. “I went, ‘How do I do that?’”

She was instructed to call a specific number, and was connected with a woman who told her that payment needed to be made in-person. The woman listed off places Graney could pay the nearly $1,000 “balance,” mentioning Mohegan Lake, N.Y.

Graney found this odd right away – she had lived in Mohegan Lake 25 years ago and had Con Edison as her electricity provider at the time; it’s in Westchester County, outside of Orange and Rockland’s territory.

The representative continued to rattle off places she could make the payment, asking Graney if there was a Walmart nearby. Graney said there was.

Graney’s son was working with her at the tea room. She was planning to send him or her husband out to make the payment.

The representative told Graney to send him to Walmart or Dollar General with a debit card.

“I am going to myself: ‘What? A Dollar General?’,” said Graney. At this point, she was nearly in tears. She asked the representative to give her another hour to make the payment. The woman on the phone gave it to her.

“I turned to my son and he goes: ‘Mom. Dollar General, Walmart. What are you thinking?’”

Graney snapped out of it. “I went, ‘Oh, God, you’re right.’”

“It was 20 minutes of sheer chaos,” she said.

Flirting with the enemy

Scams are constantly evolving with the rise of technology. After reading our last story about a local resident who was nearly scammed out of $30,000, Port Jervis resident Shelly reached out to the newspaper to share her story.

“I was a victim of a romance scam” she wrote in an email to the paper. “To this day I cannot figure out how it happened.”

It started with a pen pal website. “I got a letter from this gentleman, and he said his name was George Baker,” said Shelly. “We started maybe one, two emails.... It was just normal stuff like ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your job?’ He said he was a flight attendant.”

Shelly’s profile said she was 65. George would compliment her photos, telling Shelly she looked like she was in her thirties.

“So, he got a little flirty,” said Shelly. “But it was not like, a big deal. I felt complimented. Then sometimes he would say things that were...more like more like a boyfriend. Then I would say, ‘George, I am too old for you.”

George would send Shelly photos from the airplanes he was supposedly flying in, and photos of “himself” in Singapore and Thailand.

“The pictures were real pictures,” she said. “The whole time, I am just thinking it is one person.” Now, Shelly believes it was actually multiple people hopping into the chat to manipulate her.

After three months of chatting online, George told Shelly he was going to Beijing on business.

While in “Beijing” he said he was having trouble with his account, and his friend was helping him – and then his friend had an emergency. He asked Shelly for money.

She thought things seemed fishy and started to back off. “I shut him down and I was deleting his pictures. I stayed away,” she said. “But he was so nice.”

She told George she no longer wanted to speak to him. “He said, ‘I am so sorry, I will never ask for money again, I’ll find another way. I want you to keep in touch with me because I want our friendship to keep going.’”

According to Shelly, days or weeks would pass until George would ask for money again. This time, he claimed to be in a hospital after eating bad Chinese food. He told Shelly he could not afford to buy the more expensive American food.

“I felt bad. I told myself, ‘Well, I’ll just send him this little bit’ because he just asked a small amount,” said Shelly. “I said, ‘If he rips me off, I am done with him, and that is it.’”

Then George extended his trip. It was only supposed to be two or three weeks, and by this point, he’d been in Beijing for months. Things kept going wrong. And George kept asking Shelly for money to fix his problems.

“Something got twisted...I saw the red flags. But I kept doing it, and I was getting so stressed out while I was doing it,” said Shelly. “It is just...they manipulate your brain somehow. I cannot explain it.”

By the time Shelly snapped out of it, she had sent “George” thousands of dollars.

A phishy threat

Scams come in all shapes and sizes. One popular method is through phishing, when an email or message appears to come from a legitimate company, but is actually from a scammer looking to collect money or sensitive information.

Stockholm, N.J., resident Donna Weatherwalks knows a spammy email when she sees one. She gets fake emails about packages she never ordered, or accounts saying they’re expired, and knows to ignore them.

But in February, she received an email from what appeared to be Norton, a digital security company she subscribes to for antivirus software.

“It looked like it was officially from Norton,” she said. “It said it was time to renew and they were going to charge.”

But the email didn’t specify how much Weatherwalks was going to be charged unless she called.

“I let myself get distracted and I called the number in the email thinking it was Norton. Basically, they said they had already put a charge on my credit card, but they had overcharged me. They wanted to give me a refund, but they wanted to put it on my bank account,” said Weatherwalks.

She was instructed to provide them with her bank account number – and the amount she was to be refunded, under $100 – over the internet. She typed both into the website as directed.

“I typed it in exactly,” she said. But the person on the phone said she had typed in $1,000 instead of the original “refund amount.”

“I said: ‘I did not put it in the wrong amount, you did that.’”

Then the representative on the phone started saying Weatherwalks needed to send $10,000.

“I think I called them a bastard and said ‘There is no way I am doing that,’” said Weatherwalks.

“He said: ‘If you don’t give us the money, we’ll lock your computer.’”

Weatherwalks didn’t think it was possible for the person on the phone to actually lock her computer, and refused to send any money.

“I said, ‘f-you’ and I hung up on him,” she said.

The scammers did manage to lock her computer. “The screen froze; it would not go anywhere. I tried rebooting.” She took her computer to Nerds to Go in Franklin, New Jersey and had it fixed for $220.

But something else needed fixing too. Her bank accounts were compromised.

“It was really a nightmare for weeks and even months after that making sure all of my direct deposit and automatic payment things had been changed over,” she said.

Weatherwalks says talking to friends has helped her deal with the situation.

“So many people said ‘You are not the only one,’ which is consoling.”

If you paid a scammer...
• With a credit or debit card: Contact the company or bank that issued the credit card or debit card. Tell them it was a fraudulent charge. Ask them to reverse the transaction and give you your money back.
• With a gift card: Contact the company that issued the gift card. Tell them it was used in a scam and ask them to refund your money. Keep the gift card itself, and the gift card receipt.
• With a wire transfer: Contact the wire transfer company or the bank you did the wire transfer thought. Tell them it was a fraudulent transfer. Ask them to reverse the wire transfer and give you your money back.
• With cash: If you sent cash by U.S. mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and ask them to intercept the package. If you used another delivery service, contact them as soon as possible.
• Through a money transfer app: Report the fraudulent transaction to the company behind the money transfer app and ask them to reverse the payment. If you linked the app to a credit card or debit card, report the fraud to your credit card company or bank. Ask them to reverse the charge.
• If the scammer made an unauthorized transfer from your bank: Contact your bank and tell them it was an unauthorized debit or withdrawal. Ask them to reverse the transaction and give you your money back.
If you gave a scammer your personal information...
• If you gave your social security number: Go to to see what steps to take, including how to monitor your credit.
• If you gave login information: Create a new, strong password. If you use the same password anywhere else, change it there, too.
If a scammer has access to...
• Your computer: Update your computer’s security software, run a scan, and delete anything it identifies as a problem. Then take other steps to protect your personal information.
• Your phone: Contact your service provider to take back control of your phone number. Once you do, change your account password. Also check your credit card, bank, and other financial accounts for unauthorized charges or changes. If you see any, report them to the company or institution. Then go to to see what steps you should take.
Report your scam to the FTC: If you experienced a scam — or even spotted one, report it to the FTC at