Dianne and Tom Clemens of Normal say they don’t want pity for this story. They made a determined decision to share how they lost their savings of $600,000 in a scam to prevent others from falling prey like they did.
It all started on November 12, 2021, with a computer pop-up that blocked Dianne from accessing a newspaper’s website. The message told Dianne that she had been hacked. There was an audible alarm and a message telling him to call a phone number for help.
“And I did. The noise was deafening. And this person answered, said his name at Microsoft, his badge number, and he took me through several steps to lower the volume so that I could hear him , and that he could hear me. From there he went on to say that our network had been hacked and they were going to help us through this,” Dianne said.
It hadn’t been hacked yet, but over a three-month period that simple decision to call the number listed would be very costly. The alarm sound and pop-up was not a rare scam. The code used to activate the pop-up can enter a computer in several ways, by bundling malware with something a user wanted to download earlier, for example. Some websites may also have vulnerabilities that allow criminals to insert code into the site which users then trigger with a click.
Dianne Clemens took the advice of the man on the phone.
“He put me online with another gentleman who gave me several scans. And the analysis showed that there were many IP addresses that were hacking my computer. And he asked me if I had my banking institution, and I said the name of my banking institution. He put me on hold, came back a little later and said he had someone from my banking institution from the fraud department in line. And he, this person, introduced himself to me,” she said.
It was elaborate. It was long. It was intimate. Clemens said the pair struck up a relationship with her as they allegedly tried to “help” her protect her money.
“They were professional, they worked as a team, they said the person from the bank fraud department would run this. And he would coordinate with the Microsoft person, the Microsoft person had to fill in all the holes that they, we had all these spaces, all these places where people were entering us,” Clemens said.
She said they had woven a scenario that sounded plausible. They enlisted the Clemens’ aide in “the investigation”, encouraging secrecy, claiming that it is often a bank clerk responsible for the malfeasance. They shut out the other people in the Clemens’ lives. The longer it went on, the more legitimate it seemed to Dianne.
“I’m not saying I haven’t had moments where I thought about what’s going on here? This cannot be true! And I would confront people. They always had good excuses. They had good reasons. They knew the banking sector, they knew the computer system, they knew how to talk to me about all this. They said, ‘You know, oh, we completely understand why you feel like this. But we strive to save your hard-earned money. Over time, I think it really worked against us,” Dianne said.
There were personal touches. The scammers asked them how they were doing. They talked about family time, the weather, travel plans, and more. They stopped calling on holidays. Interspersed with these talks were apparently informal inquiries as to whether there were any other assets. The men would “check” the security of these institutions and also report suspected hacks and security breaches there.
Speaking with the Clemens several times a day, the scammers convinced the couple to consolidate their holdings and gradually transfer money to the accounts the people on the phone had given them, because what they had been told would be security – $20,000 here, $20,000 there and bigger and bigger.
The crooks gutted the Clemens.
“And we just fell into it. I felt like my brain was taken over, almost like a trance. They were so smooth and they were so friendly. They talked about the seriousness of hackers, the sophistication of hackers and how they were working on that at the corporate level. They knew what to say to keep me in the story,” Dianne said.
The Rogues also exploited a core Midwestern value that many people, including the Clemens, cherish – the desire to help. They were told they were a key part of the investigation.
“I want to catch these people. And they said, ‘Well, you’re doing a really good job of helping us because that’s exactly what we need.’ They were full of compliments,” Dianne said. “I think it was part of that usefulness, that authority that doesn’t question, even though I know so much better. But I was vulnerable. They found my weak point.”
Dianne was also vulnerable for another reason. About two weeks into the long scam, doctors said her breast cancer had returned. She said she wasn’t looking for sympathy about it. She is undergoing treatment. But there is not much stress that a person can bear.
“I got lost,” Dianne said.
With such large and repeated money transfers, eight to ten in all, financial institutions were wondering. Dianne said, however, she’s not sure it triggered an increased level of scrutiny.
“It increased the number of, I would say, charges. What do you do with the money? They talked to me about tax evasion. Was I maybe wanting to avoid taxes? They talked to me when people get old like that they tend to start having thoughts in their minds and early onset dementia And they don’t think very well They kept wondering why do we want this money but nothing happened. ‘was done,’ said Dianne
Dianne said the banks indirectly encouraged them to think critically about transfers. Banks raised the possibility of scammers and warned them that they were on their own.
“Some people were very apathetic, they were asking three questions, and I had been prepared by the scammers for this. They said they were going to ask you these questions. And that’s what you’re saying. Because you don’t know not if the person you’re talking to is the person who compromised your information,” Dianne said.
But no bank ever said to stop or stopped the transfers for further investigation, Dianne said.
“No, no, no, not at all. Not at all. And everything was veiled. I don’t think they knew what to do with me,” Dianne said. “No one has told me anything, including banks and financial institutions, that has cut into my elaborate brain tissue.”
The fleece continued until mid-January when the Clemens slowly began to realize things weren’t right. Dianne was coping with her health issues. Tom Clemens began to take a more active role. He had been aware of the developments and how Dianne had been snookered. He said his first big question came when they were told they needed to transfer money from another financial institution to protect it.
“And I remember saying, ‘I can’t believe these other institutions aren’t safe.’ But I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t stop her from making the transfers. And I think back on it, I’m just, I’m in disbelief of myself, how could I let this go. Again, and again, and again,” Tom said.
The last day was Tuesday, February 1. The scammers had moved on to credit cards, asked about credit limits, and wanted Dianne to go out and spend the money on gift cards and send them.
“And I went on and said, ‘We won’t do anything more until you prove to us that the money is back in these other institutions. Saying that, I think I should have done it a few weeks ago. And he said, ‘Okay, no problem. You’ll meet your banker tomorrow at 10:30, which would be the Uptown branch. And he will get an impression of all transactions,” Tom said.
They went to the bank. They hadn’t been hacked. They had been had.
“We were doing the work for them. And that’s the tragedy of that, for us to face the fact that we did their job,” Tom said.
The Clemens made a police report, but often in such cases there is little law enforcement can do. Once the money leaves the victim’s account, the transfer is the first of many and chasing them is like trying to capture smoke. Some of the transfers turned out to be overseas.
“They just stole my brain. And looking back, I can’t believe I did this,” said Diane Clemens. “We just sort of got carried away.”
The Clemens say they would have laughed if someone had told them they would fall in love with something like this before the fact. They had read articles. They describe themselves as cautious people. They don’t even do online banking. They thought they were prepared. And yet they said they had done absolutely everything wrong.
“That’s why we’re here today, to let people know not to get too cavalier and think that you know how to do this, that you’re too sharp, that you would recognize that you’re not. not and you could learn from my mistake of not reaching out to more people,” Dianne said.
The Clemens are 72 years old. They are both retired educators. Dianne was a professor of nursing at Illinois State University. They have pensions and say they will be fine. But there is sorrow. There is anger. It will take time to recover from this feeling of self betrayal as much as by the scammers. It is in fact a trauma.
They think the best way to deal with the trauma is to change their perception of it, to deeply acknowledge that it happened.
“I had to own it. And talking about it, I find that it’s easier, it becomes less powerful. Instead of feeling like a fool, I acknowledge that I have been a victim, but I can become a survivor,” Dianne said.
Reaching that point of self-forgiveness can be difficult. The Clemens can’t keep fighting forever.
“Well, I don’t yell in the mirror anymore when I shave. To myself. So it’s part of accepting in life that things happen that you can’t control. And then realizing, I don’t want to dwell on that. What I want to dwell on are the things I love or can contribute to,” Tom said.
“And what I want to point out is that they stole our money. But they’re not stealing the rest of my life from me,” Dianne said.
The Clemens are far from alone. At least one national study suggests that one in 19 Americans without dementia are scammed each year.