"If it sounds too good to be true, then chances are it is."
Through the years I have written numerous articles on scams, and I have often heard that too-good-to-be-true statement from Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson and Princeton Police Chief Tom Root. My mind is programmed to think scams.
So you can understand my skepticism a couple months back when I had a message on my home answering machine saying I had overpaid on a college bill for our youngest daughter. According to the message, the college apparently was going through some old accounts and discovered my overpayment and needed to verify some information before a reimbursement check could be mailed to me.
A college returning money? I think not. First of all, my daughter had graduated from that college nearly nine years ago, and they were just now discovering an overpayment? Second, my husband would have written those checks, and the phone message was directed specifically to me, not my husband. Third, what kind of additional information was needed, and why did they need it? It smelled like a scam to me.
I wasn't even going to respond to the message at first, but the more I thought about it, the more indignant I became that someone was using the name of the university as a cover scam. So I called the university's general office to ask about the validity of the phone numbers left on the message. I was informed that, yes indeed, the phone numbers were legitimate numbers from the university's accounting office.
I was then transferred to the accounting office where I spoke with the lady who had left the message at my house. She said I had overpaid on a college bill and had $150 coming to me.
But like Doubting Thomas in the Bible, I still didn't believe. I explained that my daughter graduated eight years ago. I questioned if she had the right spelling of names for me and my daughter. Yes, yes, yes, things had been checked and rechecked, and I was the one who overpaid. She just wanted to verify I still had the same mailing address and the check from the university would be cut and mailed the next day.
I verified the information. One week later, I got the check and deposited the money in our bank account.
Life goes on; and life is good; and the university door was closed ... or so I thought.
About three weeks ago, there was another message on my home answering machine, from the same lady. Yes, it seems there had been a mistake after all and I was not the one who deserved the reimbursement check. The university needed its money back. Since she saw that I had deposited the check, I would have to write them a check for $150, the lady said. (I wondered what she thought I would have done with the reimbursement check? Keep it and frame it?)
We were in Utah at the time of the second message. Though it certainly wasn't the highlight of my vacation, I have to admit we all got a chuckle or two out of it.
So I now believe the money probably is not mine. I will have to write that check and reimburse the college for the money which it had said was mine, but was not. I certainly don't want anyone to get in any kind of trouble over the mistake.
But still, I am waiting a bit before I send out that check. After all, I could get another phone message saying that yet another mistake had been made, and I do indeed get to keep the money.
But chances are, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
BCR Senior Staff Writer Donna Barker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.