BEWARE: Financial advice columnist loses $50K of her savings to a SCAM involving conmen posing as FTC staffer and CIA agent
By Ramon Tomey // Feb 21, 2024

A financial advice columnist for New York magazine fell victim to a scam and lost $50,000 of her savings.

Charlotte Cowles, financial advice columnist for The Cut – a website run by the magazine – recounted this ordeal in a Feb. 15 op-ed. The ruse began when she received a phone call, allegedly from an Amazon customer service representative named Krista, informing her of "suspicious activity" on her account involving fraudulent purchases. Despite seeing no evidence of such purchases, Cowles was nevertheless concerned.

Krista then transferred her to a certain Calvin Mitchell, allegedly from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Cowles gave her personal details to Mitchell, including the last four digits of her Social Security number, to establish legitimacy. In response, the alleged FTC staffer made up a story about her identity being used to rent cars found with drugs and used for various crimes, and being linked to properties involved in money laundering.

Mitchell stressed the urgency and danger of the situation, telling the columnist that her family was being monitored and that she couldn't tell her husband or the authorities. He then referred her to a colleague of his, allegedly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), named Michael Sarano. The fake CIA agent, who was part of the ruse, told Cowles that a federal investigation on her was underway.

The scammers then instructed Cowles, who was already scared for her family, to withdraw $50,000 from the bank and turn it over to an agent – also a co-conspirator. She put the money in a shoe box, taped it shut and waited for the agent to arrive in an SUV. Cowles then turned over the money to the agent when he arrived.

It was only later that she realized: Krista, Mitchell, Sarano and the agent she gave the money to were scammers.

Cowles isn't the first victim – and certainly not the last

"When I did tell friends what had happened, it seemed like everyone had a horror story," she wrote. "One friend's dad, a criminal defense attorney, had been scammed out of $1.2 million. Another person I know, a real estate developer, was duped into wiring $450,000 to someone posing as one of his contractors."

Writing for the Western Journal, conservative book author Rachel Emmanuel pointed out that stories such as that of Cowles are increasingly becoming ubiquitous given the "increasingly digital world" of today. She continued: "Although people reading this story may think that they would never fall for a scam like this, internet scammers use human emotions like weakness, fear, shame and urgency to prey on thousands of Americans every year."

Emmanuel also warned that with the rise of artificial intelligence, the number of Americans falling prey to scams "is only set to increase." She recounted the story of Jennifer DeStefano, who allegedly received a call from her 15-year-old daughter in April of last year saying she was kidnapped. The supposed kidnappers originally demanded $1 million but later lowered this ransom amount to $50,000 – which she gave.

But it later emerged that DeStefano's daughter wasn't actually in danger. She told senators during a June 2023 hearing that AI was used to simulate her daughter's voice. (Related: AI is making it much easier for cybercriminals to steal your life savings.)

"The internet has become a hotbed of deceitful scammers ready to take advantage of unsuspecting victims," Emmanuel concluded. "While there's no magic shield or foolproof plan, understand the risks and always think before you click."

Head over to for more stories about scams targeting Americans.

Watch Glenn Beck discuss Jennifer DeStefano's experience of being scammed by AI in the clip below.

This video is from the High Hopes channel on

More related stories:

WARNING: AI-powered DEEPFAKE VOICE SCAMS are now coming for your bank balance.

More than 376M SCAM messages sent daily to steal money, clone voices of Americans.

Report: Bad bots TAKING OVER the internet with spam, cybercrime.

DO NOT ANSWER: 12 Scam phone numbers to avoid.

Online safety: How to avoid common internet scams.

Sources include:

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