Scammed! (Part II)

Several weeks ago, I posted the story of a Westport woman who nearly fell victim to a phone scam.

Today’s story — about an online version — does not have as happy an ending.


The saga began when Marleen Salko — a Westport resident for 47 years — met with her landscaper. She told him she was leaving the next day on vacation. She did not say where. Then she headed out on errands. She said she was going to the bank.

On her first day in Arizona — visiting a friend, before heading to Denver to see her daughter — Marleen’s cell phone began vibrating, with calls and texts.

Dozens of friends told her: Your email was hacked. Change your password.

She tried, but could not. She couldn’t even get into her email, to warn her contacts not to pay attention to the message she had supposedly sent.

One of the calls was from her landscaper. He did not leave a message. Marleen assumed he was calling about her lawn. She had so many calls and texts, she replied only to those who left messages, or seemed concerned.

Finally — the next day — an AT&T tech guy helped her change her AOL password.

Eight days later — finally back in Westport — she emailed her landscaper. He replied: “Are you OK?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You were stuck in Manila,” he said.

She listened in horror, as the story came out. The landscaper had received one of her hacked emails. With limited English, he did not realize this stilted language was a scam:

Hope this note finds all well with you, please i really need your urgent help. presently i’m out of the country to Manila, Philippines for a short vacation and unfortunately i’m having a serious network difficulties with my bank. unable to transfer out here and can’t even access the ATM as planned. have been so stranded and confused. I’m thinking if I could get a quick loan of $2,100.00 from you or anything you can afford if not all? to enable me to complete my activities here. I promise to refund your money in few days as soon as I return, let me know if i can count on you so I can send you my details.

The landscaper knew she was on vacation. She’d told him she was going to the bank.

He had been married a few months earlier. He told his wife the story. And, he said, “A while back someone helped me out. It touched my heart.”

She advised, “Do you whatever you feel you should do.”

So he gathered his cash. In the midst of his busiest season, he left his workers. He headed to Western Union, at Stop & Shop, to wire Marleen the money.

But the scammers were not through. Using a host of excuses — exchange rates, settling the hotel bill, buying a plane ticket — they convinced the landscaper to send money 6 different times.

In all, he wired $6,248.25 to the Philippines.

“He’s very embarrassed,” Marleen says. “He thought because the email wasn’t in his spam filter, it was okay.”

She is aghast at what happened. “He works so hard. He built a business, and employs several people. He loves our plants, and our garden.”

So Marleen has come up with an idea to help. She’s created a GoFundMe campaign. But she’s not asking for a lot.

“If just over 6,000 people contribute a dollar each, we can pay him back,” she says.

It’s a great idea. There are 2 ways to help.

  • Click here to contribute.
  • Forward this story to as many people as you can, on all your social media outlets.

I’ll let you know when the $6,000 goal is reached.

26 responses to “Scammed! (Part II)

  1. Daniel Katz

    What’s with “Gofundme”? Ms. Salko should simply pay the man back and, for his incredible generosity, add on a bunch extra.

  2. Mark Mathias

    This is another reason to turn on security measures such as “two-factor authentication” that typically requires not only a password to log in, but may include entering a number or code that is texted to your phone. This way, if people have your login credentials (username and password), they are prevented from logging in because they don’t have the additional information to access your account. Most email services include two-factor authentication as a security precaution, but it needs to be enabled (turned on) by the user.

  3. Kathryn Sirico

    Go fund me ???? Marlene pls be as generous and concerned to ur landscaper as he was to you. Pay the man back and restore his dignity privately. He didn’t take to Go Fund Me to help u out.

  4. David Webster

    I concur with others here. If your landscaper can find the money to bail you out of a perceived jam, surely you can do the same without turning it into a town project. Especially since you were the one who had a lapse in security that led to his plight.

    And as a general principle for others reading this, if you are hacked, you are the one with the responsibility to get in touch with everyone who might have been put at risk due to your breach. Had you simply called him back this would have been avoided.

    Obviously he was more worried about you than you were about him.

  5. Kevin McCaul

    Western Union should be partially responsible for this scam. Online scams have been going on for years and it’s unfortunate that the company does not do its part to prevent them. Let’s hope the landscaper gets his hard-earned money back in a timely manner.

  6. What a simultaneously heartening and sad story. Bravo to the landscaper and his wife for being so caring. I respectfully disagree with the previous two commenters. GoFundMe is a great way for people to come together and support causes they believe in, which in this case, I do. Neither Marlene nor the landscaper were at fault here. Both were operating in good faith. I’m happy to contribute.

  7. Daniel Katz

    Indeed, Prill, GoFundMe is a great way for folks to “come together” to help one in need. HOWEVER, this is NOT such a case…this is a case of a person who 1) can afford a landscaper; 2) can afford a vacation out of town and 3) was the beneficiary of a less financially well off person’s generosity. Forget RESPONSIBILITY; it should damned well be her felt PRIVILEGE to reimburse and reward him….gratitude is not a GoFundMe project.

  8. I hope this woman is not relying solely on gofundme to pay the landscaper back.. what a joke. Why is noone ever responsible for their own actions any more?

  9. Tyler Smith

    Dan, this is a great example to show peoples true nature when it comes to compassion, understanding and (in this case) the true Westport bond. I’m in shock as to some of the comments written above (well, not one in particular). If you don’t want to contribute, then don’t! However I would truly look at the deeper part of this situation and of yourselves, as to how shaming this woman helps in any way at all.

  10. Mitchell Thompson

    WOW ! I could not disagree more with the people above who are dumping all over this woman. I feel horribly for the landscaper but let’s be honest—- he is a very caring individual yet incredibly naive. He sent money 6 different times , and why didn’t somebody at a bank or at Western Union save him from himself ? Also, If he HAD left a message on her phone, which he did not do, she would have called him back to explain that everything was OK and to ignore the emails. Since he has an email account ,shouldn’t he know by now that email scams are EVERYWHERE ?
    What did this woman do wrong? I just don’t get the anger that is being directed towards her. I also don’t agree with the Go Fund Me page though in this instance, that is not what that website is for.
    But to state that it is her responsibility to pay this gentleman back is utterly ridiculous, and I’m guessing that those above calling for it to happen would be singing a different tune if what happened to her, happened to them.

  11. If it had not been a scam, and she were really in trouble, wouldn’t she have paid him back herself when she arrived home? I would hope so.

  12. India Penney

    Oh my oh my oh my … so many of these comments make me so very sad.
    I’m just shy of the point where I want to disengage from all social media.
    Of COURSE I’ll donate to the GoFundMe campaign to reimburse him. What a kind and generous man he was. I’m happy to help out my fellow neighbor(s).

  13. Nancy Hunter

    Last straw. I am now completely convinced that forums are indeed a waste of time. Wish my money sent to 06880 had been sent to this man instead.
    Game over.

    • Susan Levy


      • Nancy Hunter

        Yep! Whew! Happy to disengage from today’s Westport, where a woman is criticized for finding a way to repay a kindly friend. Say no more.

  14. Arline Gertzoff

    A similiar scam happened to a friend of mine.He filed a compliant with Western Union and was reimbursed minus costs so he got most of his money back This was a few years ago so perhaps policies are different .?Landscaper should check Western Union policies Best advice Donot conduct any business on phone inc.charities /Tell this to all your friend tooWhen I get calls I politely say I do not do any business on the phone Send it in the mail for me to consider.Block anything unfamiliar on your cell as well .Finally the Westport police were great when a potential scammer threatened me.Got the scammer to call back and gave the phone with scammer on to Westport fraud officer.Saved one naive friend as well

  15. It is very disheartening to read some of the very cruel comments. An opinion is one thing, but rage built up from your own personal lives and displayed on this public forum is not cool. You couldn’t possibly have that much rage and negative judgment toward this woman you don’t know! Not everyone in our area is wealthy, in fact some people don’t have enough money to pay for heat, and you can donate to the department of human services, and $6000 net is a lot of money for most people. I will be donating and I’m also soooooooo glad that Roseanne was canceled. I don’t approve of the climate of cruelty we are living in, and we surely don’t need that in our Westport community.
    Don’t respond unless you are giving an opinion coming from a place of human decency. Thanks.

  16. Ernie Lorimer

    I thought Western Union had some procedures in place to cut down on things like this. This precise scam is one of the ones described on their web page.

    • The Western Union people at Stop & Shop are wise to this scam. A few years ago I saw a woman trying to send a money order for $1000 to her grandson who “was in jail” and needed bail money. The clerk told her it was a scam and tried to talk her out of it. So did I. I always wondered what happened.

      • Thanks, Bobbie! I know the woman well. Thanks to you and the woman at Stop & Shop, she did NOT send the money!

  17. Kelley Spearen

    Way too may scams going on today , especially toward the elderly . I was the full time care provider of my late mother while she had dementia . Someone came to the back door once asking for my mother , and I insisted why do you want to see her ?? He was here to pick up a donation check for 10K WTH ?? To a Bogus Police Union company rep .. I took a few pics of the guy and reported him . I later put her checkbook in my Safe …

  18. Marleen Salko

    Many thanks to all the kind people who donated, and thanks, Dan, for posting this story.

  19. Jeff Seaver

    I have several friends who have been completely taken by various scams – one with the “I’m in Rome and was robbed” scam, another with the “I can fix your PC but you have to deposit cash to my ATM,” one, and yet another with the legendary “handkerchief” con (look it up, it’s good) – also a couple of near-misses (the “we have kidnapped your _____” con). I note with interest that the individuals who were taken in are, to a person, very smart, sophisticated and streetwise -in 2 of the cases hardened New Yorkers (!). One a decorated fighter pilot. If one thing connects all of them, it is their big hearts.

    I understand the skepticism about crowd-funding the victim of a con, so if you don’t want to contribute $1 to help, then don’t. But if you think you’re too smart to get taken in, that the others are just fools and youre above it all – think again. Confidence games are incredibly sophisticated, brilliant really, and when you’re swept up in one, not so easy to see your way out.

  20. Elizabeth Thibault

    This is about the good hearted man who thought his client and friend was in desperate straits, and he wanted to help her. Marleen didn’t cause this, but needs help to make him whole. If you want to deride humanity and the spirit of assisting others, so be it, but don’t denigrate others who have the heart to help. We don’t have to give a lot, but this is our chance to send him a message that it’s better to have an open heart in life.